Clifton Metcalf provided valuable career lessons

By Jonathan Key | Feb 15, 2013

I hadn’t planned on being a journalist. I had just graduated from college and, before continuing on to law school and follow in the footsteps of my father and brother,  I had decided to take a year off and learn about newspapers.

My family had been in the newspaper business for years but I was never involved in it. Growing up in Franklin,  I was far removed from the “family business” but I felt the time had come for me to introduce myself to it..

I started out in the pressroom, with a broom in my hand, and I fell for all the pranks that that are pulled on the newbies. I learned how to web and run the press and established myself as one of the guys. I could coat, punch, burn and bend plates, install them on the press, adjust ink and water and line up the colors with the best. I worked my way on through prepress and composing learning the business from the end product back to gain an understanding of the last mile. After learning the mechanics of getting a paper out, I was sent to the newsroom to learn how to fill it up. That is where I met Clifton Metcalf.

Clifton was stern and serious, looking over the top of his glasses as he talked, but he came across more like a grandfather than a boss. He sent me out to cover a meeting of the ladies auxiliary, with a pad and a camera. Even though he knew I didn’t have a clue what to do I appreciated his faith in me. When I got back, he took me over to a small metal stand situated behind the door that entered into the overcrowded newsroom. On it sat a black Royal manual typewriter. My hands still cramp up when I think of how hard I had to strike those keys to type. I pecked away on it, copying my notes onto what I think was trimmed out newsprint. Clifton was patient. He would mark up my stories with his red grease pencil and send them back to me to rewrite as many times as it needed.

After a month or so, Clifton must have realized that writing wasn’t my strength, so he asked if I’d like taking photos. Anything was better than writing so off I went. Back then, photography was complicated. I had to roll my own film canisters, shoot my pictures, develop the film, develop the prints and get them to Clifton by deadline. It was fun and a real learning experience, but Clifton was again very patient. I remember shooting the Christmas Parade and running out of film before Santa came by; the one photo Clifton said he wanted. I remember taking pictures of the Kiwanis club officers and their heads being stretched out of proportion because I moved the camera. I remember having to go back and take pictures over because I forgot to put film in the camera. All the while, Clifton was supportive and patient and he made me feel proud of what I was doing.

I never went back to college and Clifton was a big part of why. He developed in me an appreciation for the importance of the newspaper’s role in the community and I saw myself in it. Because of him, I found a place, and a career, where my life could make a difference. Thanks Clifton for steering me into a career I love. You introduced me to the world of journalism in such a way that I would never want to leave it.