Boy delivering newspapers on a bicycle route in the 1950s

Every afternoon when I was a kid, the Green Bay (Wisconsin) Press Gazette landed in the driveway of our house. Actually, squinting back, I think it got tucked between the storm door and screen door. Such were the small graces of village life in the 1960s. My father would get home from his job as a utility lineman and page through the paper, cover to cover, as I unlaced and tugged off his heavy work boots. The next morning, my mother claimed the newspaper to do the crossword puzzle over her coffee. No recycling back then, so when we finished, we used the pages to wrap food waste or to stoke the stove in the basement.

My brothers had bicycle routes delivering the Sunday Milwaukee Journal. That meant we got a courtesy copy. It was a hefty thing, in size and import. The Green Sheet, a slim-but-fun feature section, was my personal delight. As I came of age and became more aware of gender inequities, I actually paid one of my brothers to let me do his route on occasion. Back then, girls apparently weren’t deemed fit to pedal around at dawn carrying the news to their neighbors. Pffft!

So yes, I grew up in a newspaper family, but not in any blue-blood sense. I noted the headlines (Vietnam and more Vietnam, Green Bay Packers and more Green Bay Packers), but never noticed bylines.

New York Times reporter Francis X. Clines

Francis X. Clines

Then I got to journalism school and had my first-time access to The New York Times. And there I found the first newspaper byline that stood out to me and that I returned to again and again: Francis X. Clines. Whether he was reporting “the Troubles” in Ireland, the Cold War in Moscow or exotic (to me) characters in New York City, I found myself drawn in.

Mr. Clines (He fully deserves The New York Times’ honorific.) died last week (July 10, 2022) at 84. He started at the Gray Lady as a copy boy in 1958, when I was 6. The term copy boy still irks me but maybe had I been more alert, I would have taken it as a motivating challenge, just as I did that paper route.

I can’t claim that Mr. Clines was any conscious influence or inspiration in my career. But I’m grateful that his work is archived to influence and inspire me now. Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at The Poynter Institute, revisited that work in his own tribute to Clines, drawing reporting and writing wisdom from Clines’ own words. As for my tribute — I can think of few better, for a reporter, than to have their byline noticed, sought after and remembered.

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