Stu Neilson is in town crier garb and holding up a copy of the Town Crier newspaper as he waits at an airport in 1999 to greet Michael David Kean-Price, the actual town crier of Tewkesbury, England.
To say that Stu Neilson retired in April solely as managing editor of the Wilmington/ Tewksbury (Mass.) Town Crier would be an understatement.
Neilson found himself filling almost every role at the weekly newspaper, with a circulation of about 6,000, for the past 50 years, after his father founded the Town Crier in 1955.
“I was the
editor, photographer, janitor. I’d fix the roofs, sweep the floors
and do everything,” said Neilson, who retired from the Town Crier
but will work from home in Wilmington for ACN Marketing, based in Concord,
“I said, ‘Fine, I’m the one,’ and threw my keys on the counter and stormed out the door and moved to New Mexico,” said Neilson, who is now not able to recall the nature of the conflict with his father. “It was a terrible mistake.
After a brief stint
working at a hardware store, Neilson, then 27 years old, returned to
the Town Crier after remembering what he loved about journalism.
the Town Crier had been using phototypesetting, a technique that requires
painstaking hours of cutting and pasting copy onto a layout board, Neilson
foresaw the popularity of laser writers and brought Apple Macintosh
computers into the newsroom. The Macs could communicate with the printer,
which would then enable printing on less expensive paper than phototypesetting
required, he said.
The Town Crier was written about in national and international publications, including Time Magazine, for making that conversion, he said.
“I saw it coming down
the pike and said, ‘I’m doing that.’ I had people
coming in from all over the world to interview me,” Neilson said.
“You get to do what
you think is right as opposed to taking orders from someone else,”
he said. “On the split side of that, you’ve got responsibility.”
“I would only do that
when it had to be done, but photography is a lot more fun than any of
it,” he said.
“Afterward, when my sports editor was going over the game films, they got to that part and backed it up and played it over again and again,” he said with a laugh.
Another of Neilson’s most memorable assignments occurred on a slow Friday afternoon when he followed a fire truck parked on one side of the railroad tracks that was putting out a fire on the other side. The train station had been called to shut down the trains but mistook the instructions for another set of tracks.
“The train comes around the corner at 60 miles per hour,” Neilson said. “I kept the motor drive running, taking three frames a second, and I ran over to the truck … (The train) sucks one of the hoses up and it swings it around. It was quite dramatic. The train went by two or three feet away from me.”
The photograph, of a train running through the spewing water of the hose as the hose whips around and lifts the hat off a fireman’s head, won Neilson recognition as photographer of the year from the Massachusetts Press Association.
Sometimes at a small newspaper, your best assignments come from “dropping everything you’re doing, with your camera in hand, chasing the fire engines down the street,” Neilson said.
‘It was a Thanksgiving game … and I was concentrating, not really watching the play, and (the players) ran over me and I ended up crawling off the field. Afterward, when my sports editor was going over the game films, they got to that part and backed it up and played it over again and again.’
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