“A picture is worth a thousand words.”— Old adage considered cliché by some. For one whose lifetime has been spent behind a camera, it still speaks volumes for me.
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“You’re a photographer. Come work for me until you figure out what you want to do.” Morris Craig made me that offer. About 1974, I’m thinking it was.
In 1974, college degree done and still trying to figure out what I wanted to do, that I might have been born with ink on my veins was the farthest thought from my mind. At this point in life, however, there is no denying it. Wouldn’t want to if I could.
I know it was destined to be because the few times temptation lured me away, the siren’s song hunted me down and dragged me back. It didn’t hurt either, that I was blessed by having a couple of the best in the business as mentor, employer, partner, and friend.
For getting me in the business to begin with, I owe Morris Craig for making me what another guiding light in my life, Jim Chionsini always said, “An offer I couldn’t refuse.”
Craig started work at The Monitor weekly newspaper up in northeast Texas at Naples in 1956. His first job after graduating from Paul Pewitt High School the same year. Then, in 1968, he and his wife, Melba, became the new owners. The Monitor would be the only job he ever had other than running the projector at the Inez theater in Naples while still in high school.
For the record, everybody calls him Craig. “The only two people who have ever called me Morris,” he will tell you, “was my mother, and my first-grade teacher—Mrs. Orene Slider.” I believe him. Even his wife addresses him as Craig.
I first met Craig when my mother worked for the Mount Pleasant Tribune. For as long as The Tribune had a press, they printed The Monitor every week.
We became friends when I worked for a construction business in Naples a couple of years later. After that company closed, I wasn’t sure what my future would be. That’s when Craig tendered his offer. That’s when I said, “Why not?”
My first stint in newspapers at The Monitor was followed by 40-plus years in communication: editor, publisher, group manager, journalism teacher, even some time in marketing.
Then came last year. Craig’s health took a turn for the worse. Melba and family tried to keep the newspaper going, but it was too much. After 134 years of service to the community, The Monitor ceased publication. With 65 years there, Morris and Melba Craig represented almost half the newspaper’s existence.
Then just when life looked its worst, Craig’s health made a miraculous improvement. While visiting with him and Melba in Naples Saturday, I asked, “You realize you are the miracle man, don’t you?”
So now, Craig is talking about reviving The Monitor from an office at home. Unfortunately, that means the office on Main Street where I reported for work nearly 50 years ago will remain closed.
Clearing out the building, Craig had some things he thought I might want. Simply entering the office with him instantly reminded of just what he really gave me many years ago: a future. Documenting those feelings was his gift of matted and framed black-and-white photos that had hung on the wall since I was there: a brief photo essay of what it takes to get a newspaper on the press.
In the first photo, Craig is “typesetting” on a “Compuwriter Jr,” one of the first “cold type” devices for offset printing. The old hot-type process of metal letters from molten lead had started fading away less than ten years before.
Craig hired me as a photographer, but as has always been the way of small newspapers, everybody on staff learns a little about everything. Therefore, he taught me the basics of gathering news and writing stories on the Compuwriter.
Another photo captured in time, a rookie kid from Mount Pleasant laying out an ad in the long-gone art of hot wax, border tape, and Exacto knives. Craig also taught me the elements of an effective ad and most importantly—how to sell them.
In another, Craig is laying out a page with a line gauge (newspaper office “ruler”) in one hand and black paper for photo placement in the other. Craig taught me how to design attractive and inviting pages. He was a stickler for quality.
A couple more depict the old Cottrell Vanguard press at The Tribune being readied to print the next edition. Craig taught me to watch the preparation and, “Look at every page negative before it goes to plate; make sure it looks good.” Did I mention Craig was a stickler for quality?
The last two photos illustrate the final steps: addressing the papers and delivering them to the post office.
As I look at the photo collection on my office wall this morning, I see pictures worth far more than a thousand words. I see a friend who hired someone who had no clue about his future. I see someone who taught me the basics of journalism, the importance of communication, and the value of community newspapers. I see someone who opened the door to my future.
I hope to see more editions of The Monitor bearing his name soon.
(All photos by Tim Tenbrook, Naples, Texas.)
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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune, the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, and The Fort Stockton Pioneer.
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