On being a Times News reporter

J. H. Osborne • Feb 2, 2020 at 6:00 PM

I’ve been here a long time. At the Times News, I mean. In fact, I’m the longest-serving member of the news staff. Not the newsroom, mind you. There are some folks on the copy desk who predate me. And I’m not counting management. I am a foot soldier. A worker bee. I am content with that. Thankful that I still find every day interesting. I’ve never grown bored covering news for the Times News, my hometown newspaper.

How could I?

It’s a fast-paced world, this newspapering thing. Daily deadlines. Breaking news. Writing a story as the story unfolds. Finding stories. Listening. Asking questions — including some that an elected official or other authority figure would rather you not ask. Getting answers — and sharing them with the public.

On the other end of the spectrum, working for the Times News has been a safe port. Stable. Family-owned. Unafraid to evolve as the news business has changed rapidly in recent years. I’m happy I’ve been a part of that evolution. I’m encouraged and invigorated as we begin a new chapter. And proud to have played a small role in it.

If you don’t know what I’m referring to, read the story on today’s Money page.

I was first hired 30 years ago this month — 1990. First job: weekend night cops. That meant I was responsible for breaking news between 6 p.m. on Friday and 11 p.m. on Sunday each week. To make sure I was busy, general assignments were thrown in, as well as typing in news briefs. Covering the cop beat meant listening to a scanner back then, when most local law enforcement, fire departments and medical rescue workers used radio frequencies easily monitored. There was a desktop scanner in the newsroom and a handheld version I carried everywhere when I was on duty. Now such scanners are useless, unable to receive radio transmissions from local agencies.

I have memories of seeing things I’d like to un-see back in those cop reporting days. I also have now-funny memories of being put in ridiculous situations.

One Saturday or Sunday as I sat alone in the newsroom, scanner in hand, a mid-level editor rushed in and closed himself up in his office. Moments later he swung open the door and bellowed, “We are at war! Get the White House on the phone!” Through a window I could see him talking on the phone, sitting at his desk. Was he serious? Not about the war (Persian Gulf, I’m thinking), but about the White House. Game for anything, I got out The Telephone Book (if you don’t know, ask someone older) and searched the blue “government” pages — and found a number for The White House! Needless to say, I didn’t get through.

For the Blizzard of ’93 I was the only person in the building for roughly 24 hours.

During my career I’ve covered Washington County and Johnson City, their school systems, and East Tennessee State University. I’ve covered Bristol, Tennessee, and Bristol, Virginia, city governments. I’ve covered Bluff City. I covered Kingsport City Hall, then the education beat. Finally, I was assigned to Sullivan County, which remains my primary beat.

I often speak to students and civic groups about working here. Sometimes I’m on the hot seat and taking questions I didn’t expect. A couple of months ago, I spoke to the Kingsport Alliance for Continued Learning. Someone asked what was my favorite story I’d ever written. Or maybe it was what did I think was my best story. Either way, I didn’t have a quick answer. I told them that while I write a lot of rather dry stories about governmental meetings, my job, as I said above, also offers me vast opportunities. A lot of folks might be surprised that I’d relish writing “good news,” feel-good stories all the time. But that’s not realistic.

My favorite story? I can’t narrow it down to one. But I feel blessed to have covered the Santa Train for more than 20 years. The opportunity to write columns like this, and the wonderful feedback I get from the community, is my favorite thing right now.

J.H. Osborne covers Sullivan County government for the Times News. Email him at josborne@timesnews.net.