Spevak: 30 years as columnist: a rewarding ride

john.spevak@gmail.comJuly 25, 2013 

Thirty years is a long time. It's more than a generation. It's nearly a third of a century.

This summer marks 30 years of writing for the Enterprise. I'm surprised I've lasted this long, especially since I started writing columns as an afterthought.

In 1983 I worked full time as a summer replacement reporter for the Enterprise. In May, the editor had left to take another job. While searching for a new editor, the Enterprise hired me as a reporter. (By the end of August, the newspaper hired Tom Wright as editor.)

During that summer, the Enterprise did not have a managing editor. Instead, three reporters — Francis Durham, Elaine Rose (now Post) and I — shared editorial duties. Francis, the sports editor, had the most journalistic experience, so he took the lead.

Francis, Elaine and I would meet regularly, talk about potential newsworthy items, and then divide the writing assignments among ourselves and cub reporter Mike Treleven. We also took photos, affixed captions, wrote headlines and designed page layouts. We all enjoyed the time together.

I wrote my first column that summer as a "filler." One of the jobs of any newspaper's staff is to "fill space." Based on the amount of advertising sold for a particular issue, a proportionate amount of space is given to the editorial staff to fill with stories and photos.

During the week before July 4, 1983, news was sparse. Either Francis or Elaine (I can't remember which) suggested I write a column to insert in the space we had to fill. "What the heck," I said.

What I wrote appeared not so much as a column but a humorous opinion piece, and it was given the headline, "How to really enjoy the Fourth of July."

Eventually, the summer newspaper job came to an end, and I had to return to my regular employment in the fall, teaching at the Los Banos Campus of Merced College.

About a week before I left the job, the Enterprise publisher, Bill Brehm Jr., came to me and asked if I would like to write a weekly column for the newspaper after I returned to the college.

I was both surprised and flattered. But my first thought was "no." Teaching takes up a lot of time, especially teaching English, with the many essays that need to be read and graded.

But before I could answer, Bill said, "We would pay you."

Well, as a father of three children, the youngest being 3 years old, I understood that even a few extra dollars would help. I said, "Yes."

During the fall, I submitted one piece of writing each week. Sometimes it appeared as a feature; at other times, it appeared on the editorial page labeled as "Guest Commentary."

Since then, I've written a column a week, 52 weeks a year, for 30 years, equaling more than 1,500 columns. During that time, the length of my column has ranged from 700 to 1,000 words. That calculates to well over a million words.

I'm grateful that I've had such an expansive opportunity to share my thoughts, experiences and opinions with Enterprise readers. I appreciate the many editors and publishers who have given me the freedom to write about whatever I thought would make a good column.

I'm particularly thankful to be a part of the current Enterprise team, led by publisher Gene Lieb. Gene and his staff understand the importance of a newspaper to a community, and they care deeply about the community they serve.

I enjoy writing columns, and I'm glad that more than a few Enterprise subscribers enjoy reading them. My goal in writing each column is to share thoughts and experiences that resonate with my readers, something that we have "in common."

Even when an experience of mine is odd or unusual, I believe there is some idea or feeling within that experience that readers can relate to — with a chuckle, a tear, a grimace or a nod of recognition.

Thirty years have come and gone. Just as I felt 30 years ago, I'm not sure how long the column will continue. But as long as I keep writing, I will try to keep relating to and connecting with my readers.

Comments on the writings of John Spevak, an Enterprise columnist for 30 years, are encouraged, and can be sent via email to john.spevak@gmail.com.

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