It’s a long-accepted truth of artists and writers everywhere that the art as you complete it is never as amazing and wonderful as it was in your head. It doesn’t matter if you’re painting, singing, writing or dancing: in your mind it was perfect.

It’s the same for photography. In my last few days at the newspaper, I attempted to capture in still life the character and flavor of the place to which I devoted 18 years of my life. I only partly succeeded. I feel the images very strongly myself, but that’s because they trigger memories and emotions for me. Those memories are stirred up again this week, as my former employer begins its move out of its historic old building and into new offices, like the Chicago Tribune, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and so many others.

Sunset probably wasn’t the best time to capture a century-old building, at least not when City Hall was casting a shadow over it. I’ll let you decide if that’s symbolism.

The chandelier in the lobby makes a light rattling sound when the air system is working, but it’s too quiet to hear unless you’re on the night shift and really bored.

It’s really a lovely old brick building, located a block or two from the city’s Main Street square.

The walls are covered with framed front pages from moments in history. We walked past them every day, barely noticing them, as though we weren’t occasionally writing our own rough drafts of history.

And, of course, sometimes the history is our own.

Every newsroom still has a giant dictionary. It doesn’t matter that we all have every word in every language at our fingertips on the internet. No one would even consider mothballing the dictionary.

This sign belongs in every office everywhere.

The sports department has its own particular flavor.

As does the photography department, a specialty that has probably changed more than any other.

The photographers got their commercial drone licenses only a few months before I left. It took them months of training just short of gaining a pilot’s license, not to mention the testing. We wanted to get them little pilots’ hats to celebrate their success, but were unable to find them at the local party store. Instead…

Another relic no one would think of excising no matter how little it is used.

We may or may not have swiped some of the hats from Joe Ostermeier’s retirement party to add some fun to the police scanner. That person may or may not have been me.

This carved seal stood watch over the features department, well known as the only group that could keep a potted plant alive.

The editors’ bay kept watch over our daily numbers and the three major news networks: Fox News, CNN and MSNBC. At least until the bosses went home, and then one of them generally switched over to the Cardinals game. I leave it to you to decide which network got the boot…

The newspaper won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for an investigation uncovering how the state child-services department looked the other way in 53 cases of child abuse and neglect that culminated in the child’s death.

One of our former reporters called these “The Exorcist Stairs” and it stuck. At least for me. They were the steepest stairs I’ve ever climbed with the possible exception of my home office tower. I had to stop using them entirely while recovering from the Halloween Punch, and I’m still not sure I could safely navigate them. Fortunately, the Elevator of Questionable Sanity was usually available…

The newsroom is only peaceful at night when everyone is gone. And even then, that large screen to the side is watching over the site.

And yet there are so many empty desks.

Including mine.

Journalist for more than 20 years, president of St. Louis SPJ, freelance writer, editor, photographer, and fiction author. Subscribe at

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