In April of 2002, a month before I graduated from OU, I got a call from Joey Goodman offering me a job at the Lawton Constitution. I hadn’t applied for this job, had never been to Lawton in my life and had no idea who Joey Goodman was. I had no plans to work in journalism. I wanted to be a high school teacher and basketball coach; the only reason I was a journalism major is that I had a scholarship requiring it.
A couple of months earlier I wouldn’t have even considered this job. While my J-school peers got internships at big papers every summer, I just worked full time to make as much money as I could because I wanted to be a coach more than I wanted to start at the bottom of a sports desk. But one of my classes during that final semester of school was Community Journalism, and the idea of being an integral part of a smaller community and doing everything on a sports desk from writing to editing to page design appealed to me. Also, it was a month before I graduated and I had no other job prospects.
So I went to Lawton to meet Joey and it ended up being one of the best decisions of my life. When I took the job I thought I’d be there a year, maybe two, then either move into coaching or on to a bigger newspaper. I stayed seven years, and that’s 100% because of Joey. He was absolutely the best boss I have ever and will ever work for, and he was the perfect man for that job.
Joey gave 45 years to the Constitution, more than 25 of it as sports editor. You’d think that would earn you the right to leave the paper on your own terms, but such decency was not offered by the corporate chain (Southern Newspapers) that bought the paper a few months back. They rejected his offer to work through the busy basketball season and offered no severance package. Tuesday was his last day, although he will continue doing freelance work for the paper.
Instead of ranting about the demise of local journalism or basic human decency, I’d rather celebrate Joey.
“I never thought about being a writer,” he told me. “In high school I had a horrible English teacher; he was only interested in theater and never had us write anything. He got fired before my senior year and they replaced him with an old biddy who actually made us write. That was big for me. I was only a C student, so I thought I’d maybe go into TV or radio. But I figured out pretty quick that I didn’t exactly have TV looks.”
Joey went from Apache High School (near Lawton) to Oklahoma State University before going to the Constitution. His first assignment was to take a press release about the Harlem Globetrotters coming to town and turn it into a brief, maybe three paragraphs long. It took him an hour.
“Gene Thrasher told me, ‘If it takes you an hour to produce four inches of copy, you’d better find a new career’.” (Thrasher was retired when I started at the Constitution, but he still did some freelance work and was always ribbing me with lines like, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you were a halfway decent writer.” But he always said it in a way where you knew he was joking. I miss Thrasher).
Joey and Herb Jacobs (then the sports editor) were a perfect pairing to lead the sports department for decades. Herb was detail-oriented and made sure all the stats were correct. Joey was the people person focused on the bigger issues. In the early 1990s Joey took on the title of sports editor but Herb continued to work there until 2002, when I was hired. Even after that, Herb still helped out with local events and wrote a great weekly “Where Are They Now?” column catching up with different Lawton sports legends. Herb is quitting that column in a couple of weeks — it’s truly the end of an era at the Constitution.
When I joined the paper the sports desk consisted of four people. Besides Joey and I, we had Steve Sinderson and James Royal. One of my first assignments was to get in the car with James and drive around to the 30 or so high schools in our coverage area, meeting the football coaches and introducing myself. Almost every single football coach I met had great things to say about Joey, like each one was Joey’s best friend. That’s how Joey makes everyone feel. And that’s what’s needed when you run a staff of four trying to get news, scores and information from 30 different schools. We focused most of our efforts on the three Lawton city high schools, yet so many of those rural school football coaches would call the Constitution every Friday to give scores and stats and chat with Joey so he could write a round-up of all the games we weren’t there in person for.
As the sports editor and senior member of the staff, Joey had every right to go to all of the marquee sporting events and leave the junior staff in the office to do the boring grunt work. But he took the opposite approach, allowing the youngsters to go to OU/Texas, the bowl games (even national championships) and the occasional Thunder game while he stayed back. He also chose to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas so the rest of the staff could be home with their families. Gestures like that go a long way when you’re working for barely more than minimum wage.
A childhood bout with polio made it hard for Joey to get around, but he never let that hold him back from doing his job. Cameron Stadium didn’t have an elevator to the press box, so Joey just kept the stats on a legal pad on his lap, moving his scooter along the sidelines to keep up with the action. I was always impressed by how he could keep accurate stats this way — I had a hard enough time with it up in the press box where I had a good view and could spread my stat sheets out on a table in front of me.
I spent a semester as sports editor at the OU paper and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. You take crap from three sides — your bosses, the people working under you and the consumers — with very little positive feedback. We got some wacky calls from the public. I loved answering the phone, hearing a lady yammer on about how we needed more coverage of women’s professional tennis, then cutting her off and saying, “Let me transfer you to our sports editor, Joey Goodman.”
Speaking of answering the phone, Joey had a trademark way of doing it. Loudly. I used to joke that he didn’t even need the phone, whoever was calling could probably hear him yell “SPORTS!” from anywhere in Southwest Oklahoma. I loved watching Sinderson wince and clasp his hands over his ears when Joey answered the phone.
I joke, but Joey was excellent at fighting for the sports department with the higher-ups at the paper, making the staff under him feel appreciated, and presenting a good image of fair coverage to the public. He was also the glue that kept the staff closely-knit. I’m still great friends with several of my co-workers (special shout outs to James Royal, Jacob Unruh and Nick Livingston) despite having left the paper 10 years ago.
“Joey passed down so many basics I use in my current job, but I think the most important was his ability to grind. This isn’t an easy job, and taking too long to produce copy or too long to complete a task really puts you under the gun.Tyler Palmateer, sports editor, Norman Transcript
My desk faced Joey’s office and I was always grateful for that because I could watch him through the glass window. When he took phone calls from coaches, he’d put his phone under his shirt so it would stick to his ear. And he did this thing where he’d start working so hard he would literally grunt and pant at his keyboard; I always thought that was so funny, but it was a real indicator of how hard he worked.
No matter how frustrated or overworked he got, when the night was over he would complete downshift. Like, he’d just forget all the work. He’d come out to our desks and crack the whole staff up. He was a constant source of laughter. He’s one of my favorite people and always will be.”
Very rarely did Joey write anything negative. The sports section is a place for entertainment and lighthearted debates about topics that don’t really matter. Joey loved to highlight the people behind the facemasks and under the cowboy hats (we all gave Joey crap about how much he loved and wrote about rodeo). He won “writer of the year” in the paper’s Reader’s Choice awards every year in a landslide, competing against everyone at the paper, not just the sports section.
He used that clout to help bring about positive changes to the Lawton sporting community. For years he lobbied to bring amateur softball tournaments and the like to Lawton as part of the chamber of commerce. He organized an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament that attracted some really good players from all over the region. Joey cites the new lights at Cameron Stadium and the upgrades to the Great Plains Coliseum as two of the improvements he’s most proud to have seen come to fruition over the years.
By the time I arrived in Lawton, Joey was already a full-blown celebrity. You couldn’t go to lunch with him without being interrupted several times by friends. So when I asked him what his favorite aspect of the job was, his answer was hardly surprising.
“Getting out and seeing people. I’ve always enjoyed people. There are a few families around here that I’ve covered for three generations. Guys who were playing high school ball when I started and now have grandchildren that are old enough to play. I think that’s pretty neat.”
In 2004, my dad passed away unexpectedly. There were hundreds of people at the funeral in Oklahoma City, but I was especially touched to see Joey and James Royal because I knew they drove all the way up just to be with me in my time of need for an hour, then they’d have to drive back and put in a full day’s work to get the sports section out that night.
Joey met with the paper’s general manager, Mike Owensby, and they agreed to give me as much time off as I needed. Paid. Would a national newspaper chain have shown that kind of compassion?
Although nobody can replace my dad, Joey definitely became a father figure in my life from that moment forward. I was working for him when I got married, bought my first house and had my first kid. Those are pretty big moments.
His family became a part of ours. His wonderful wife Brigitte is our accountant, their son Russ is about my age and his wife Tanya actually worked at the paper part-time with me before they were married. We have forgiven all of them for being OSU fans and love to share a meal whenever we can. My kids love Joey, and not just because he brings a bag of Tootsie rolls for them every time he sees them.
“Joey took a chance on a kid out of a small college with no experience. I went to Northeastern State, had little to no connections but a huge desire to be a great sports writer. He taught me fairness, how to be a good communicator and what it takes to make it.
I was the new area sports reporter who had no idea what the area even was around Lawton. I had never been to Lawton before my job interview. Joey took me from town to town, showing me the schools and football fields, showing me where he grew up in Apache and showing me some great places to eat. He also introduced me to several key people.
It was his steady guidance that will always stick with me. He let me write and grow on the pages of the newspaper. If I wanted to write something he rarely, if ever, said no. If I made a mistake or misjudged something, he never got mad. He made sure I learned from it.
He became a sort of father figure during my three years there. I was four hours from my family and knew very few people in Lawton, but he made Lawton a friendlier place and set me up to make it in this business. I’ll be forever grateful.”Jacob Unruh, sports writer, The Oklahoman
I cried when I heard that the paper was laying Joey off, and I cried some more when I scrolled through the hundreds of loving Facebook comments under his post announcing it. Newspapers around the country have been shrinking or disappearing for more than a decade, so it wasn’t completely shocking, but I was surprised they did it now after Joey survived the initial round of cuts made when the paper was first bought.
I was also surprised that less than 24 hours after finishing up his final shift at the paper, Joey’s view of the future of community journalism is brighter than mine.
“Right now the chains have formulas for how to run these papers, but they don’t adjust for each market. What works in Lake Jackson, Texas, might not work here. We’re more of a regional paper. The people in Elgin, Chattanooga and so on are looking to us but we’ve stopped delivering to any place that isn’t right off the highway. Our circulation has dropped from 16,000 to 10,000 since they took over, but I do think there’s a place for mid-sized papers. I actually think they have a better future than the big metro dailies.”
If the next Joey Goodman were to graduate from college this May, he might be able to make it in print journalism. But it seems more likely to me that he would go the PR route. Joey could sell the hell out of Oklahoma State University athletics or the National Finals Rodeo or whatever else he wanted to sell. He’d do a great job of it, but it wouldn’t have the same impact on a community that 45 years of Joey Goodman at the Lawton Constitution has done for Southwest Oklahoma.
Southern Newspapers is about to find that out the hard way. Right now, I’m brushing aside anger and looking at two positives. One, that Joey will still do some regular writing for the paper. And two, that 17 years ago I took an interview with a guy I’d never heard of who ended up having a bigger impact on my life than I could ever have imagined.
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