Ten years isn’t as long as it used to be.
I’ll never forget my wife’s reaction — or lack of reaction — when she got “the call” that fateful Friday night. I was the Managing Editor of the Chickasha Express-Star and I was heading to a football scrimmage to take photos and write a story.
That is when my cell phone rang — people actually used to talk on cell phones. I answered and it was a man named Chip Watson. He was in charge of hiring a publisher for a small daily paper in Augusta, Kansas.
I had wanted to be a newspaper publisher for most of the more than 14 years that I had been an editor. I had been passed over four times in that period. I was too young, not ready, too valuable where I was and other excuses that kept me from being offered the publisher’s job in my hometown.
So when Chip called, I was ready to talk. He described the paper. He had talked to other people in the newspaper business who had worked with me and he said he needed someone like me at that paper.
I asked what it paid.
He told me a salary number and a potential bonus. I told him to add half the bonus to the salary and he had a deal.
He laughed. “Don’t you want to come visit the town and check everything out?” he asked, mistaking me for a normal person.
“I don’t need to,” I told him as serious as I could be. “I know what a small town paper is. I want to be a publisher. If you are offering, I am accepting the offer. I can be there in two weeks.”
He had trouble believing this was really happening, but he said if I was sure then consider it done.
I called my wife as I was pulling into the parking lot at the scrimmage.
“We’re moving to Kansas,” I told her. She didn’t say anything for a minute and then she asked what I meant.
“I accepted a publisher job in a town called Augusta,” I said with pride.
“What?” she asked not knowing whether it was just another “Kent trying to be funny” or “I’m going to kill him” moment. There are a lot of both of those kinds of moments.
I finally convinced her that I had really taken a job in another state and we were going to be moving soon.
I actually started two weeks and one day later. That Monday was Labor Day.
I packed up my truck — yep the same one I am driving now — and headed to Kansas. I stayed in the little hotel as you come into town and the next morning, I actually put on a tie and headed into the office.
That was 10 years ago.
I’ll never forget when they introduced me to the new staff and our lifestyles and opinion page editor asked the only question.
“Are you a Republican?”
All I could do is smile. With me, that’s a long story. I never fit comfortably or exactly in one party. I have said this before and I don’t care who knows. I started out as a Republican, voting for George H.W. Bush two days after being registered to vote.
I changed to a Democrat a few years later because I was hired as a campaign manager for a former teacher and friend who was running for State Senate.
I stayed a Democrat because it was the best way to get to participate in local elections in Oklahoma at that time even though I never got to vote in primaries for my favorite candidates for president. Times have changed. Oklahoma Republicans have rebuilt the electoral landscape in local politics.
Not long before I left Kansas, I changed my affiliation back to Republican to vote for a friend for a state office. When I got to come back to Oklahoma, I stayed a Republican, both because of local elections and I fit there better for the most part.
Soon after I moved to Kansas, Barack Obama came to El Dorado, Kansas, for a Kansas Day appearance during his primary run against Hillary Clinton. Thanks to John McCain’s horrible taste in vice-presidential candidates, Obama was the first and only Democrat I have ever supported for president.
I have covered countless games in so many different sports in those 10 years. I adopted a child. I have written more than 1,500 columns. Do you know how many people I have made mad with more than 1,500 columns? I have an idea.
I have written columns in four different countries. I have written in hotels in Ethiopia, on a cruise ship, in a German airport, in lake cabins and even on my phone while riding in a car.
I wasn’t even on Facebook when I became a publisher. I hadn’t even heard of Twitter.
Life has changed a lot in 10 years — mostly for the better.
I would love nothing more than to spend another couple of decades in this business. It is a lot of work. It isn’t always easy. But it is almost always worth it.
What more can you ask for?
— Kent Bush is publisher of Shawnee (Oklahoma) News-Star and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.