The roar of humanity

My first newspaper gig was as the executive editor of The Magee Courier/Simpson County News. The 1980s were waning, and Lee Atwater’s shitbirding had given full-throat consent for radicals to usurp everyday norms.

“Executive editor” was deceiving; it was a staff of one – me. That was my first lesson in career management: know what you’re negotiating before committing.

But that time in Simpson County laid the foundation for life-changing experiences. Years later, I read “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work” by Alain de Botton, who described the life of those who put ink to paper: “To look at the paper is to raise a seashell to one’s ear and to be overwhelmed by the roar of humanity.”

Duane Cross
Nehi and Goo Goo Cluster

Newspapers cannot be defined by the second word – paper. They’ve got to be defined by the first word – news.

Arthur Sulzberger, Jr.

The road led to Columbia, Vicksburg, Booneville, Baton Rouge, and Jackson. I held to account authority, from football coaches to sheriffs. My teams and I stacked awards like discarded shrimp carcasses at a Lowcountry boil.

Ultimately, I moved to Atlanta to surf the web as managing editor for Turner Sports. Dale Earnhardt died within the first 10 months, and Sept. 11 changed everything. The CNN Center and Techwood were my home for 15 years – NFL drafts and Super Bowls, MLB World Series, NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup, NASCAR, golf majors, and NCAA championships – it was a career dream come true for a kid who grew up among farm fields.

Duane and Russ

‘Do or die’

On Jan. 7, 2014, I flew home from the BCS national title game, a nail-biting 34-31 win for Florida State against Auburn at the Rose Bowl. The next day, I went to Shorter University to begin a project regarding the school’s transition to NCAA Division II.

I drove back to the Turner campus, dropped off a couple of co-workers, and pulled out of the guard gate. … That’s the last thing I remember until Jan. 27, when I woke from a coma.

H1N1 evolved into BOOP (bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia) and eventually bilateral pneumonia. The doctors were trying to figure out what was wrong with me. I struggled to breathe, and nothing they tried solved the problem. My wife was counseled to begin funeral arrangements.

My mom, a nurse, had made the trip to Atlanta. She spoke the doctors’ language and understood what they were fighting. Ultimately, the docs called for a Hail Mary, a cocktail of eight drugs, to be pumped into my body. “It was basically do or die,” she said later.

Atlanta was in the throes of Snowpocalypse, and my friend and local CBS reporter Will Frampton was on the TV. “That’s Will,” I said. I was alive. … Fifteen months later, I stepped away from the last job I thought I’d ever have.

For more than 25 years, leaving a newsroom toes-up was how I thought it would end. That’s the funny thing about life: It rarely comes to pass how you thought.


Adios, Corporate America

Walking across the pedestrian bridge to the parking garage was surreal. I had joined Turner a few months before Ted Turner sold his vision for the “great step forward in communications.” AOL was the beginning of the end, and 15 years later, the ownership and leadership changes took a toll. So, I decided to take Ralph Waldo Emerson’s advice: “Don’t go where the path may lead; go instead where there is no path … and leave a trail.”

A buddy and I launched a content and marketing business. We knew the ins and outs of getting good content into the correct funnels, understood the digital advertising space, and built websites in our sleep. And then I moved to rural Tennessee, which is not a global hotspot for digital anything. Still, we made it work, even after my buddy moved to Montana.

Eventually, I answered a call to return to Big Business, working remotely for a leading-edge SaaS-centric company. Learning from a bonafide Silicon Valley pirate (TechCrunch’s words, not mine) was a unique opportunity. The end came when we agreed that I write with a human cadence instead of staccato-esque AI; I am not a developer and do not write in that voice. And while you may code like a banshee hopped up on Sun Drop, there’s more to marketing than telling everyone you’re the most intelligent guy in the room.

Still, I am grateful for another experience that led to right here, right now.


Small Town, USA

Today, life at Tras Chábán is good. The bright-lights-big-city lifestyle … that’s for someone else. Small-town sunrises and sunsets (and the joys in between) – that’s how I measure happiness.

Thirty-plus years of being overwhelmed by the roar of humanity have underlined that people are good at heart and salt-of-the-earth folks have stories to tell. The thing is: Conversations are had between humans.

I’ve come across a variety of people in my professional career. A few of them are friends. Many more of them are lessons learned.

Born in Tennessee, raised in Mississippi, studied in Alabama, worked in Louisiana and Georgia, and I’ve been to Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Missouri (plus Texas and Oklahoma; I’ve got the SEC covered).

Other travels have taken me from coast to coast and border to border. I’ve lived, laughed, loved with folks from around the globe, and they all have one thing in common: They’re everyday folks who want to live their lives. It’s not too much to ask.

You be you. I will be me. #TheBurg🥃