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Huckleberries: This time the bell tolls for DFO

In 1993, D.F. “Dave” Oliveria met his newspaper hero Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle, the master of three-dot journalism, at the annual convention of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists in Portland, Ore. In 1999, D.F. won the society’s Herb Caen Memorial Tidbits Column Award for his long-running Huckleberries column in The Spokesman-Review. (Courtesy photo: Brenda Oliveria (aka “Mrs. O”) / Courtesy photo: Brenda Oliveria (aka “Mrs. O”))

In 50 years, I’ve come full circle. I graduated from high school at age 17 in ’67. Now, I’m 67 in ’17. And I’m retiring. This will be my last column. Forty-seven years in the newspaper biz ends today. So let’s bring out my final set of dots.

Three dots

I became an admirer of three-dot master Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle while growing up on a 500-acre dairy in rural northern California. My Aunt Beatrice subscribed to a newspaper that carried his syndicated column … (By the way, I believe that my teen years on my Uncle Manuel’s dairy shoveling cow manure prepared me for a career of editorial and column writing) … I was amazed that Caen could cram so many different items into a single column. I didn’t know the people he wrote about. But he made me care for them … His mantra? If you don’t understand one item, go to the next … Caen’s tight writing and made-up word play were dazzling. He copied the style of three-dot originator Walter Winchell. And I copied Caen. I copied so well that I won a memorial award given in his name for tidbits column writing in 1999 from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. I didn’t care about newspaper awards after that. I’d grabbed the gold ring …

A wandering man

In my 47 years of newspapering (1970-2017), I’ve worked for six papers in three states and for the four main publishers in the Inland Northwest: Duane Hagadone (Kalispell Daily Inter Lake, 1977-82), Butch Alford (Lewiston Tribune, 1982-84), and Bill and Stacey Cowles (Spokesman-Review, 1984 through today). I owe all four of them in different ways for enriching my career … I’ve had 11 editors in my newspaper journey, beginning with intimidating, 500-pound Eddie Booth at the Chico (Calif.) Enterprise-Record, who greeted my early work with: “This is crap. Can’t you write any better than this?” I think he liked me … The last four editors – all with the SR – broadened my experience. Chis Peck permitted me to write Huckleberries, as well as pontificate on the editorial page. As a newsroom dinosaur, I became the region’s only full-time newspaper blogger in Febuary 2004. Steve Smith and Gary Graham allowed me to blog full-time. Under current editor Rob Curley, I realized a lifelong dream in January of writing multiple (four or five) columns per week while blogging. It almost killed me.

D.F.’s top five

I have enjoyed a career that started in 1970 with hot metal and linotype machines and now tries to survive while navigating cyberspace … My Huckleberries Online blog was the crowning achievement of my career. Together with my commenters, blurkers (blog lurkers), and allied bloggers, we developed a cyber watering hole that modeled civility and proved that newspapers can operate blogs successfully … Other top achievements include: Promoting human rights in the region for three decades through reporting, columns, editorials, and blog posts … Helping stop the insane 2012 attempt in Coeur d’Alene to recall superb, three-term Mayor Sandi Bloem and council members Woody McEvers, Deanna Goodlander, and Mike Kennedy … The Herb Caen Memorial Tidbits Award … Survival. In the 21st century, I’ve watched dozens of friends and colleagues leave the newsroom as the result of buyouts, layoffs, and career changes as newspapers all around began dying and the SR struggled to survive … Now, the bell tolls for me. I appreciate that Publisher Stacey Cowles is sending me out into the cold, cruel world of Donald Trump and Kim Jung Un with a nice buyout. He didn’t have to do so.

Parting Shot

My dear wife, Brenda (“Mrs. O”), has put up with my daily deadlines and obsession with journalism for 42 years. Ditto for my Lord Jesus, who stepped into my life when I was 22 and covering a multiple-fatality church bus wreck near Lincoln, Calif., in spring 1972. Neither has failed me. Ever. I have lived a blessed life of kings as a newspaperman. I hope that my work over these decades has blessed you, too.

—30— (Old newspaper designation for end of story.)

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