Nearly 12 years ago, I made my debut at the then Lebanon Daily Record in a report on the antique and garden tractor pulls at the Laclede County Fair. It wasn’t the most exciting job (sorry to those who are really into lawnmowers pulling weights down a dirt field), but I tried my best to make my first article pop. I even added a little nerdy “Transformers” cartoon reference to my lede, writing that they were “more-than-meets-the-eye tractors,” which is part of the transforming robots’ slogan.
All things nerd and geek pop culture have always been my passion. I love movies, TV shows, video games and comic books. In fact, and I know I’ve told this before, it was those comic books that sparked my interest in reporting the news. Sure, I’d never be able to fly or cling to walls like Superman and Spiderman, respectively, but I could take on the careers of their alter egos, Clark Kent and Peter Parker, both of whom were reporters and photographers by day and heroes by night. Over the years at the newspaper, I’ve expressed that love through my Entertainment columns and reviews.
Four years ago, the opportunity arose for me to start making some money off of my obsessions. My wife and I bought the local comic shop and over the past few years, we’ve transformed it into an ever growing business called Massey’s Comics. For those four years, my wife and I have worked many, many hours beyond the time that the doors to the shop are open - as I’m sure all small business owners do. Although I’ve been working six days a week, I still was struggling to keep up with the demands of both the growing business and telling the news. After many discussions with my wife, I’ve finally come to the answer of one of the hardest decisions of my adult life - I will be leaving the newspaper to work at my store full time. Even though I put in my notice last week, it still feels surreal to type that out. However, I believe that this is the best decision for the future of my business and in turn my family.
When I started at the newspaper, I was a little in over my head, having only worked for a short time professionally at a small weekly newspaper in Springfield and writing for my high school and college newspapers, before getting what I considered my first real professional job. It was a bit intimidating joining a motley crew of vastly different personalities.
My boss was Julie Turner-Crawford. I’m sure I constantly aggravated her with my constant questions and my share of half baked stories that probably needed a little more time in the oven before I turned them in. One thing about Julie is that she shot you straight. If it was bad, she let you know it was bad. There were no bones about it. Though I probably complained to my wife about it on more than one occasion, it’s that tough love editing that helped me grow as a writer.
Also on the staff at the time was assistant editor Ken York. I loved working with Ken. He was over-the-top at times and a bit eccentric (ask him about some of his conspiracy theories some time), but most importantly he was encouraging. Through we shared many an immature moment, he helped me mature as a writer, giving me tips and pointers throughout my time working with him.
There also was the great Tammy Helm-Teeter. No offense to my current coworker Steve Smith, who is amazing in his own right, but she was probably one of the best local government reporters I’d ever worked with. She taught me several things that I used in my own writing when I started covering government proceedings. She later took those skills to Kansas, where she is the editor of the Fort Scott Tribune.
I can’t forget our sports editor at the time, Israel Potoczny, who was a character unto himself. When I first met him, I thought he had it figured out, as he seemed to come and go as he pleased. Little did I know all of the after office hours he was spending covering games and other sporting events. While mostly quiet, Israel would sometimes get fired up about a political topic, which would lead to some of the best discussions I’d ever heard between Israel and Ken.
Rounding out the crew was Kirk Pearce, who is the longest running employee at the company. We may call him the historian, but to me, Kirk is the heart and soul of the LCR. Sadly, he’s the only news department employee left that was here when I started. I cannot tell you just how many times I’ve come to Kirk over the past 12 years for information about our community. I’ve lived here most of my life, but I only know a fraction of what he knows. He’s a walking and talking Laclede County history book - a genuine treasure in our community.
For years I was on the crime beat. Every morning I would visit the police station and sheriff’s office and comb through the reports from the day before. Occasionally I also would get to see the other side of those stories when people went to trial. I covered a few murder trials in my time here, quickly finding out that they’re nothing like they are on TV, but one in particular stands out. In fact, it was probably one of the most exciting times at the newspaper. Almost exactly a year into my career, I went to the sentencing hearing of an Ozark County murder trial that was moved to Laclede County. Following the sentencing of the defendant, the brother of a man who had been killed jumped over the railing to attack the accused. Everyone in the court room jumped up and the grieving brother was tasered and taken to the ground.
Just a few days later, I was assigned to go to a rally of sorts for people who were pro then Mayor C.P. Craig, who was facing a special recall election that later ended with his removal from office. At the meeting, I was sitting front row, camera in one hand, note pad in the other and a little recorder sitting in my lap. I took the brunt of Craig’s wrath, who spent some of the meeting shouting at me about how it was the newspaper’s fault that he was being recalled. It wasn’t until this (admittedly intimidating) moment that I felt like a true journalist. A politician had publicly yelled at me, and I had lived to tell the story.
The crew at the Record evolved and changed over the course of my career. In 2015, I became the assistant editor and just two short years later, I took the position of editor. I have been incredibly proud of the things that the newspaper has been able to accomplish under my leadership as we made the transition from the Lebanon Daily Record to the Laclede County Record. No doubt there were growing pains, but I felt a sense of validation in all of the hard work and hours the LCR crew was putting in when we won the company’s first Gold Cup from the Missouri Press Association in 2019. That year we also won the paper’s first General Excellence first place award. A part of me thought it was a fluke or that the judge’s felt bad that the Lebanon Daily Record was making the change from a daily to a weekly, but by some miracle, we were able to win first place General Excellence for two more years in a row. Fingers crossed that we pull off a fourth for the work we did in 2021.
I am by no means taking the credit for these wins. If it weren’t for reporter Steve Smith, we would have never earned those awards. He is one of the hardest working reporters I’ve ever met. He offers a no-nonsense, “Just the facts, ma’am” reporting that every newspaper needs. There’s also Alex Boyer, covering high school sports with a passion as a life-long ‘Jacket. But, even if Steve, Alex and I type up the most amazing words in the most compelling stories, you probably wouldn’t read them without the excellent design by our composing team of Daniel Foust and Shawna Bradley. They’re the people responsible for making the newspaper look good. Don’t forget the ads they build either, which they couldn’t build without the salesmanship of Jennifer Early - our fantastic sales manager. Behind the scenes, publisher Beth Chism and business manager Terra Bernhardt make sure this sometimes runaway train of a business stays on the rails.
In other words, even though I’m leaving, I’m leaving the newspaper in good hands. I still have a couple weeks left at the newspaper, as it transitions to new leadership. Earlier this week, the LCR hired Shelby Atkison as the editor of the Record. She comes to us from the Marshfield Mail, where she has been serving as editor.
I will miss all of the people past and present (well most of them) that I’ve worked with over this nearly 12 years. I consider many of them friends and some almost family. I’m thankful to them for their help in shaping me into the person I am today. I’m also thankful to the readers. Without you, there is no newspaper.
Fines Massey is the editor of the Laclede County Record.
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