About Erin

Deputy Editor, Southern Living Magazine. Digital and social media girl who learned everything with a pen and a reporter's notebook. Mom. Florida native celebrating all things kitsch, accidental Birminghamian. Is probably getting back from somewhere or heading somewhere. Knows: Elvis, journalism, pop culture, Southern artisans and emerging neighborhoods, vintage clothes, pugs, Yacht Rock. 

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Tuesday
Nov152011

Alabama Journalism Legend Steve Joynt: The Best Is Still Unwritten

Last night I heard one of the biggest names in journalism speak. Tom Brokaw, visiting Birmingham to speak at a benefit for Children's Hospital. He was phenomenal, captivating the room with his tales of a career in journalism. I was star struck.

Today, I'm thinking of another journalism star. You haven't seen him on the news, but if you live in Alabama, you've read his work and been touched by his stories. He's shaped a lot of journalism in our state for more than two decades and been in the business for more than three (starting with his time as a copy boy). Steve Joynt, one of our state's finest reporters and editors, is leaving the business today. 

Joynt is a little humble. So I'm going to tell you about his story. 

***

A long, long time ago, when I was a baby reporter, I showed up to my first full-time job at The Birmingham Post Herald (rest in peace, beloved afternoon paper). Upon entry to the building I was issued a badge, and AP Stylebook, and a desk across from a seemingly intimidating dude with a collection of snow globes. Ah, the paradox of Steve Joynt.

He said:

"Joynt. Who you?"

I said:

"Uh, uh, I'm Erin?" (Yes, there was a time where I was timid. Thank you daily newspapers for breaking that.)

I didn't realize that the newspaper gods had smiled, sticking me square across from one of the most gifted reporters there was, and next to another one, a legend, Mr. Ted Bryant. Ted covered Alabama politics. Joynt covered cops, and assorted Birmingham politics. I didn't really deserve to sit near them. So they said, "Wanna go to lunch?"

Why in the world would they want to go to lunch with me? 

I shut up and tagged along.

We usually walked to La Paree, where we ate club sandwiches and I watched as they greeted Birmingham's power players -- the judges, and lawyers, and bankers. It was still a time that I was learning about the culture of the old boys network, about football being a code for life in a restaurant that still had toothpicks and mints at the front counter and hat racks at the booths.

But Steve and Ted didn't act like the old boys. They invited me in to these lunches, sharing stories about this town that were older than me. I loved those lunches and the secrets that I heard, even if I was chided by the city editor for taking too long to get back. Why in the world did those guys let me into their club?

I'll never know, but damn, I was lucky. During that time, I learned more about reporting and writing than in the next 10 years. How to ask tough questions. How to look someone in the eye and call their bluff. And how to nod to them the next day at La Paree. Basically, how to be a journalist and how to do it with integrity. 

I wish that Ted were here today, so we could celebrate Joynt's milestone. I believe he's looking down smiling, telling people up there a colorful story or two about our friend. We shall keep some of them off the record.

***

But a few things for the record.

Our former editor, Steve Bell, wrote this on Joynt's Facebook page the other day:

"I've worked with some terrific reporters in Michigan, Alabama and now in New York, but none of them had an edge on you. That guy had it right when he described you as 'the celebration of the beat reporter.'"

Joynt is a phenomenal reporter, writer, and editor, and has spent the past three decades breaking news and putting it back together. (Of course he also did some *heavy hitting* TV reporting under the guise of "The Clicker," including reporting the Olympics from his couch more than once, right, Steve?)

He has a gift for listening intently and extracting the exact details that a reader would want to read. (Not everyone in this business has this gift. Seriously.) He has compassion, compassion that was extended to countless families of murders and accidents, and a heart. Also, something not everyone in the business has, or keeps. 

Joynt is a heavy hitter, with a string of awards behind him, and a book ("Jack's Law.") It was a huge loss for Birmingham when he left to go to the Mobile Press Register, where he has spent the past decade as an editor. There he has shaped countless young reporters, and made some old timers better, I bet. 

 

He's is going onto the next chapter in his life, doing things that he'll share with the world down the line. Now an accomplished artist, he'll continue to create. See, Joynt has taken his passion for Mardi Gras and turned it around into something remarkable with his hands, selling his paintings and bead work in New Orleans and shows around the South. I am so proud of him.

I am sorry for the baby journalists who won't get to learn from him. I sigh at the state of the newspaper industry, which is losing another good one. I'm thinking of him today he walks out the newsroom doors for the last time. But I can't wait to see what he does for his second, writing headlines on his own terms. 

 

 

Oh, and for the buried lede: other than being an insanely good journalist and artist, Joynt is one of the most kind and caring people you'll ever meet. Evidence: his beautiful bride of 25 years, Nancy. Theirs is an awesome love, started back at the University of Virginia, and still going strong. 

Everything that these two do is full of attention to detail, from the larger-than-life Halloween decorations they put out each year to the special way that they wrap presents. You can't feel anything but love being around them. Which I think is better than any journalism award. Just saying.

Joynt is a loyal friend. We've celebrated holidays together (my mother is still raving about Nancy's sweet potato biscuits), and, he's kept up with me despite the fact that our desks haven't been together in more than a decade. Today is his graduation day from a business that has been known to break people. Didn't break him. Made him stronger. And, I have a feeling, the best chapters are yet to come.

So, Tom Brokaw? Pretty cool. But Steve Joynt? The best. That one is for the record.

 

Related Links:

Artist Turns Mardi Gras Beads Into Thrown Art

 

 

 

 

 

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