Cooper: Sorting the leaves of a reporter's notebook

Cooper: Sorting the leaves of a reporter's notebook

February 16th, 2014 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Clint Cooper

After a newspaper career with stops in the sports, news and features departments of the Chattanooga News-Free Press, Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times Free Press, I began my tenure last week as editor of the Chattanooga Free Press editorial page.

For all but about two years of my life, Lee Anderson was the editor of this page. I worked under him when he was, in effect, also the managing editor of the newspaper and knew him to be a community-minded, patriotic, fair and compassionate man.

He is both a fiscal conservative and a social conservative, and I hope readers of this page will find I am the same, with the perspective of a baby boomer rather than a member of the Greatest Generation.

Anderson is unashamedly a Christian and he called on his faith when considering his editorial opinions. I am cut from the same faith cloth, with the additional frame of reference of having covered a wide variety of faiths as well as an array of Christian denominations on the religion "beat" for the last 14-plus years.

As a lifelong Chattanoogan, I hail from a family that operated a small business, Cooper's Office Supply on Cherry Street, from 1931 to 2010. Though we were comfortable, my brothers, sister and I understood that profits from the retail firm were plowed back into the business. In other words, we ate from no silver spoons.

So I will write with the viewpoint of the importance of small business, of keeping it strong and of making sure it is not strangled by the ever hungry mouth of government -- local, state or national.

I was educated in public schools, Woodmore Elementary, Dalewood Junior and Brainerd High School. It pains me to see that two of these, Woodmore and Brainerd, which in their day were considered the cream of the crop, have in recent years been judged the worst of the worst. I long to see the day when these two schools, which have reportedly made turnarounds, again take their place as the best in the city.

With two teachers in my family and a son who wants to become one, I'm a huge fan of teachers and know the difference they can make in the life of a child. Many did so for me. What I'm not so wild about is the education bureaucracy, so I'll be as supportive of teachers as I can be, but not so much the controlling hands that want primacy.

More than 30 years ago, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga issued me a Bachelor of Arts degree, and UTC is where I took some post-graduate steps toward an additional degree in education. Today, the university employs my wife and is helping educate my son, who would like to teach middle-schoolers. Lots of good things are going on at UTC, but it is a government-funded institution and therefore deserves scrutiny as well as praise.

But let me step back for a moment.

Ours was a two-newspaper family.

In the morning over my Cocoa Krispies at the kitchen table, I read the Chattanooga Times before school. For some reason, the summer of 1966, the year after I finished second grade, seemed to be when I began reading the paper. And, strange as it may seem, the specific stories that stand out that summer were one about eight student nurses killed in Chicago and one about the University of Texas bell tower shooting (on my eighth birthday, of all days).

In the afternoons after school, I poured over the Chattanooga News-Free Press as I lay spread-eagle across the footstool in our living room. During summers, I also tried to catch the paper in the air as the driver threw it out the window of his white Ford Bronco. By the late 1960s, I couldn't wait to read the Major League Baseball trade rumors and inside dope from sports writer Allan Morris.

Within a few days of each other early in August 1976, less than two months after I graduated from high school, sports writers Larry Fleming of the Chattanooga Times and Mark McCarter of the Chattanooga News-Free Press approached me at my perch as scoreboard operator at Engel Stadium and asked if I would have any interest in covering sports for their newspapers on a part-time basis.

Would I? You bet! Before long, having worked at the Times for four weeks because Fleming had asked first and then at the News-Free Press because it had offered me more hours, the ink was in my blood.

What a long, strange trip it has been.

My first month as a sports writer saw me use a red Flair pen in the rain at the first high school football game I was to byline (don't try this) and misspell one subject's name in my second high school football feature story. In case you're wondering, those weren't the last two bloopers I have make.

Through the years, my stories in the sports department covered everything from a oiled-to-the-hilt woman bodybuilder to the World Series.

At the merged Times Free Press, under the Metro/City banner, I was thrown out of an interview with former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush by the Secret Service, among other adventures, but that's a story for another day.

In the features department, I was privileged to meet clergypeople of all kinds, write about the coolest technology trends (that were out of date in six months), visit operating rooms for surgeries, drool over beautiful houses and home renovation jobs, and prepare recipes I had wanted to make for years.

Now, I hope to engage readers on the issues of the day, with the help of the traditions of the past and the perspective of a lifelong resident. Won't you join me?