I’m not expecting this. Well, I am, eventually, just not at this moment.
you, the columnist
By Dave Lieber
It’s 1993. My first column. By way of introduction, I ask readers of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram if chicken-fried steak is chicken or steak. I know. It’s a dumb way to begin. Maybe the dumbest. As I struggle to find my columnist voice, the bosses assist by assigning me extra duties.
At night, I am ordered to sell subscriptions door-to-door so I can understand the product. I am assigned to sit on a United Way committee creating an emergency hotline number. And there’s the company picnic committee. I get that plum assignment, too.
Twenty years fly by. Lots of good things happen. I’m The Watchdog. Thousands come to me each year with their pleas for help with unsolvable problems or tips about government or corporate corruption. Newspapers may be dying, but my column brims with life. “So many problems, so little time,” my outgoing voice mail greeting explains. My plate is full. And then somebody notices.
If I were a government official in Texas and picked up the phone to hear, ‘This is Dave Lieber,’ my heart would skip a beat. And not from joy. Lieber is a classic watchdog journalist, looking out for the little guy – and he gets results. While it is admirable that he is an ombudsman, it’s his flair and skill as a writer that earn him this award.”
— Judge in the National Society of Newspaper Columnists 2012 contest who awarded Dave second place, general interest, for large U.S. newspapers.
Then it all stops.
When they call me in on vacation, I figure the meeting is about my contributing video reports for the paper’s new iPad edition. Before the meeting, I search my library for a history book called The American Newspaper Columnist. My plan is to show the editors the line in the book stating that I “pioneered” the “multimedia Internet column” at the Star-Telegram in the middle 1990s with a regularly produced “video column.” Going back to my roots. Whatever you need, boss. I’ll do anything to help us survive. That’s what I plan to say. But I can’t find the book.
It’s an omen.
The purpose of the meeting is to tell me it’s over. I’m not expecting this. Well, I am, eventually, just not at this moment.
Say it ain’t so.”
— Missy Cook Beevers reacting to my layoff on Facebook.
“And Lieber did a lot of good for the community, looking out for underdogs, the voiceless, the aged, the conned, and the screwed over.”
— Jeff Prince writing in Fort Worth Weekly
“If wealth is counted in friends, Dave Lieber is the richest man in Texas.”
— Paul B. Moore on Facebook
My father died at age 90 in July. He’s the one that sent me, a teenager, out for the newspaper every night. That’s how I met the great columnists, including my hero Pete Hamill.
Aside from losing Dad, I’m losing a gazillion readers. We’ve been hanging out together several times a week for 20 years. Will they find me on the Internet? And what about my gutsy sources? Where do they go for help?
Fortunately, I’ve been building my new life for a decade. I’ve spoken to more than a thousand audiences in the U.S., Mexico and Canada. For me, writing and speaking go together. Now I get to do more of the latter.
Sure, I’ll miss writing every week in a newspaper, something I’ve done for 38 years. (My online sites are WatchdogNation.com, YankeeCowboy.com and YourStoryBlowsMeAway.com.) But I do love the live platform and the audience. The telling of stories and the sharing of ideas designed to make life better is a lot more fun in real life than it is writing alone in a dark room.
Hamill says a press pass is a ticket to a front-row seat watching the world. It’s also a way to make things better, day after day, year after year, column after column. What a truly American honor. Every day, I saw being a newspaper columnist that way.