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Southern Rail: Changing chairs

By Robert Filla

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Did you know that during the last few years the Associated Press has been toying with the idea of employing robots to write the news? Using an artificial intelligence program called Wordsmith, the AP has utilized the platform to prepare college sports recaps and company’s earnings reports and is currently working on using Wordsmith to cover minor league baseball games. (The Los Angeles Times used robot journalism in 2014 when they reported on an earthquake in the area. The story was published in approximately three minutes, beating all other news outlets.) When I first began my career in media, computers were novel, digital photography was still regarded as an untrustworthy dark science and cell phone communication reserved for the elite—amazing the progress achieved in just a few decades. Progress that sometimes can bite ya in the butt.

I wrote my first column for THUNDER PRESS in March 1999. I was working as the magazine’s Southern Bureau Chief and the column covered motorcycle news from the Lone Star State. It was titled Texas Hardtale. Over the years that Texas gossip column morphed into Gypsy Highway (with a new columnist) and then a third columnist took over writing under the catchy name of Two-Wheel Two Step. And now our latest Texas columnist pens the news as Texas Raine. (Just to note, the last three Texas columnists have all been female.)

After my stint as Bureau Chief, the position of South Editor became available and I eagerly accepted the role, scribbling this monthly editorial rant ever since, Southern Rail. The start date for this column and my editorship (fitting enough) was April 1, 2004. So rough estimates are I’ve cobbled together a total of 210 consecutive columns for Thunder Press over the last 17½ years. And while most were late (I still suffer with deadline drama and writer’s block) and some barely palatable (a few even rejected by my Editor-in-Chief), several stand out as true gems, examples of clever writing that are borderline inspiring. Stinky or stellar, I’m proud of every one.

But as the access to electronic gadgetry has increased over the years, the print media process has become extremely streamlined, almost seamless. So much so that this will be my last column for THUNDER PRESS. Since the conjoining of the South and North editions at the beginning of this year (and creating the East edition you hold in your hands), it followed that one of the East editors would be reassigned to make the best use of our editorial resources. So, I now have a new title, Editor-at-Large.

This position means that, although I will no longer be involved with the magazine day to day in a hands-on manner, I will continue to cover events of special interest to our readers along with product reviews, touring articles and bike test rides. So no more late-night deadlines, no more agonizing over photo selections, no more boring conference meetings but instead… less hours and reduced responsibilities, setting my own schedule and “adhering to no calendar but the rhythm of my own life” (an excerpt from one of those rare, good columns). And while on the surface this new-gained freedom seems like the most ideal job ever, I approach it with measured apprehension. Without sufficient restraint and established boundaries I’ve been known to unearth mischief—idle hands and the devil’s workshop kinda thing.

So while I will no longer be at the helm of directing the style, content and direction of the magazine, those duties will remain secure, safe in the capable hands of the good crew that I have come to regard as family over the years. I feel certain they will continue to maintain only the highest level of honesty and integrity with our most important asset, you, the reader, delivering only the finest in American motorcycle coverage. And I can honestly state that serving in my former role as editor of the South edition has been some of the most rewarding years of my life.

So don’t worry about the robots taking over in the near future—I can’t imagine C3PO being able to convey the boisterous action of a wet T-shirt contest or the scorched beauty of a desert highway any time soon. Live fast, ride hard.

4 comments

  1. Robert,
    You are truly a gentleman, an amazing writer and someone who leads readers to new adventures.

    Losing you in the daily role will certainly be a loss for advertisers, readers and staff equally.

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  2. Southern Rail will be missed, my fav read! Just an edit in the journey!

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  3. Thank you Lizzie. And never forget, we’ll always have Luckenbach.

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  4. Southern Rail was the first thing I jumped to soon as I got the thunderpress. You will be sorely missed. Please change your mind or someone’s mind.

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