A deserving honor for some great practitioners of ‘Scrapbook Journalism’

At a break during an NCAA basketball regional years ago, I introduced myself to one of the best-known leaders in college athletics.

“Your name is so familiar,” he said. Then, finally, he added this:

“It’s the damn scrapbooks.”

Indeed, a couple of decades earlier, in many stories under my byline, his wife’s name appeared. She was an accomplished swimmer, and her mother had carefully snipped the stories and saved them. A generation later, the scrapbooks were still occasionally cracked open.

Scrapbook Journalism.

It didn’t change the world. It didn’t win Pulitzers. It didn’t put you in a screaming debate with a colleague or permit a raving monologue on ESPN.

It did draw new readers to newspapers. It did serve to celebrate those who, frankly, are no longer as well-celebrated in this world where corporate greed and tone-deaf management has taken community journalism along the path of Blockbuster Video.

(The smug 30-something who led the way in destroying the proud newspaper legacy in Huntsville once reprimanded me about my reluctance to adopt social media. To which I retorted, “You can’t clip out a tweet and paste it in a scrapbook.”)

This past week, I attended the Tennessee Sportswriters Hall of Fame banquet to celebrate one of my best friend’s induction. Of most of the six inductees, it would be fair to say – and complimentary – they often practiced Scrapbook Journalism.

Mark Wiedmer from the Chattanooga Times-Free Press has covered countless major events – Final Fours, Olympics, World Series, etc. I was fortunate enough to share press row with him for many of them, and to spend a half-dozen years as his colleague.

For all the events on the resume, the one he wanted highlighted in his introduction: That he has covered 31 consecutive Special Olympics. And the people he’s interviewed: He used a quote from an 89-year-old woman who completed a “fun run” at a local road race while using a walker.

“Easy to win,” she said, “when you’re the only one in your category.”

Weeds is the only one in his category in the business. He’s not only one of the most talented writers I know, he’s an incredibly gifted caricature artist. As you see here:

I could write thousands of words about Wiedmer, of old stories and memories. But the best four words I can write in tribute to him: Julia Caroline. Ella Beth. He is a wonderful father to those two delightful girls. Even if Ella Beth can’t wrap her head around how her father can be so old as to be friends with the father of one of her teachers.

The other five inductees (they squeezed the COVID canceled class of 2020 into the 2021 festivities) were Tommy Bryan, Maurice Patton, George Starr, Larry Taft and Teresa Walker.

Teresa, the state’s Associated Press sports editor, is the exception to the Scrapbook Journalism realm. The Associated Press likes to tout an old Mark Twain quote: “There are only two forces that can carry light to all the corners of the globe … the sun in the heavens and the Associated Press.” Teresa, a consummate pro, is a force of light in Nashville.

I’m sure Tommy Bryan and I met through the years, but I feel shortchanged by not knowing him. He’s obviously been his own force of light in Wilson County, celebrating the young athletes there.

Maurice Patton came of age when young Black sportswriters were a rarity. They were often shunted off to cover small colleges and HBCU’s. Mo transcended all that. He was equally adept at preps and pros. He’s been a survivor of a leaky profession and bad bosses, and continues to type – and talk – away with a sports website and radio show. He will still bemoan on Facebook about the bane of all sportswriters: coaches who neglect to send in game reports, stats and/or rosters.

Larry Taft’s renown is as the prep writer for The Nashville Tennessean, but he was a valuable utility guy. Need a sidebar on the UT game this weekend? Put Larry in the car. Need a feature at the pro golf tournament? Larry’s the guy. Need somebody to pick up the MTSU game on Saturday? Larry, head to Murfreesboro.

Finally, George Starr. We worked together at the Chattanooga News-Free Press for several years, George making the commute from Cleveland, where he is something of an icon for his work at the Cleveland Banner and Lee University. When I emailed him congratulations last fall on his selection, he called it “a reward for a blood-and-guts guy who has worked way too many hours.”

I responded:

“You’ve been more than blood and guts. I’d suggest heart and soul is much more appropriate. I see these young whippersnappers, and all they want to do is tweet and collect hits and make a name for themselves, relationships be damned. They’ve missed the most gratifying part of the business, and that’s building those relationships and having an impact in a community. You’ve done that as well as anybody I’ve ever worked with.”

Or, for today’s theme, nobody has done Scrapbook Journalism better than my friend George Starr.

When I finally cash out, if someone were to suggest that somewhere along the way that I, too, had occasionally ably practiced Scrapbook Journalism, I hope somebody will clip that obituary and save it.

Larry Taft, Mo Patton, Teresa Walker, Mark Wiedmer, George Starr, Tommy Bryan

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