In 1958, a 10-year-old elementary school student in Prince Edward County, Virginia, snuck through the woods with his Yashica Mat twin lens reflex camera and balanced it on a stump at the edge of a clearing to capture a black and white photo of a Ku Klux Klan meeting after a racist school system and board of supervisors closed the public schools and opened an all-white “private school.”
He sold that photo to The Richmond News-Leader to illustrate the conditions in the county and its schools. It went out on the Associated Press news wire.
The photo led to a part-time job with The Farmville Herald, a twice-a-week paper, where he took photos and wrote stories about being a school kid in a racist society.
So began a lifelong career in media for Doug Thompson, one that has continued for more than half a century. In 1962, his family left Prince Edward County and moved to Willis in the Blue Ridge Mountain county of Floyd.
The 15-year-old Thompson took clippings of his news photos and stories to Pete Hallman, owner and editor of The Floyd Press, the town’s weekly newspaper.
Hallman hired him to work full-time for the newspaper while attending Floyd County High School.
Fred Loeffler, state editor of The Roanoke Times, noticed Thompson’s work and hired him as a correspondent for the paper while the young photographer and reporter was still in high school.
After graduation from high school at age 17 in 1965, The Times hired Thompson and the young reporter and photographer worked full-time the for paper while attending The University of Virginia at Roanoke’s then UVa campus.
Thompson won the Virginia Press Association’s top feature writing award in 1967 for a story about a 16-year-old high school girl who had a then-illegal abortion. A 1968 feature about street racing and and a news story about a home invasion that left the parents dead and their teenage daughter abducted and raped won more awards from the Press Association.
In 1969, he joined The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and his 12-years with the Metro East Side paper in the St. Louis area brought more writing and photography awards from the Illinois Press Association and the state managing editor’s group.
He covered news, wrote a twice-weekly opinion column, shot photos, created photo-features, created a Friday full-page analysis story and pictures and created a weekend features magazine.
Thompson left newspapers in 1981 for a planned “two-year sabbatical” as a press secretary for a Congressman to “learn about how Congress and government worked in Washington.” It led a dozen years. serving as chief of staff for another Representative and then Special Assistant for the Ranking Member of the House of Science and Technology Committee for a third before becoming Vice President of Political Programs for The National Association and later, Senior Communications Associate for The Eddie Mahe Company, a business crisis and political consulting company in Washington.
He also worked on the Reagan-Bush re-election Presidential campaign in 1984, a field consultant for the National Republican Congressional Committee, a communications principle for the Amory Houghton Congressional campaign in 1986 and served as an instructor at the American Campaign Academy in Washington.
Covering news, however, remained his primary love and he returned to journalism with free-lance and wire service work in the 1990s while also creating the Internet’s first primary political news site, Capitol Hill Blue, in 1994.
In the late 1990s, Thompson’s still news photography joined the digital age, shooting images on a Nikon D1, and a D2 and D3 before switching to Canons in 2004. He also began shooting news documentaries on video and now produces news, documentaries and film materials for web sites, television stations and a movie in 2015.
In 2004, Thompson and his wife, a retired actress and model, left Washington after 23 years and moved to a home in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia.
At 71, Thompson is still working as a contract newspaperman/photographer for BH Media, the news chain owned by Warren Buffet, and produces freelance photos, video, and stories for magazines and websites.
As a newsman, Thompson operates on the credo of legendary Chicago columnist Finley Peter Dunne, who wrote that “it is the role of a newspaperman to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Doug Thompson Media is the home of Thompson’s periodic writing on the state of the news industry.