Readers help Daily Herald when staff needs support

 
 
Updated 10/8/2015 12:13 PM

We've spent a lot of time in this section talking about how the Daily Herald relishes connecting people in need with people who want to help, whether that be financial or emotional support.

But what happens when it's the people of the Daily Herald who need a shoulder to cry on and some words of consolation?

 

In January, longtime sports writer and friend to everyone Mike Spellman passed away after suffering a heart attack.

We've lost people before, but I've never seen a group of people so in shock over a co-worker's sudden death.

We did what we do, especially with high-profile people, such as Mike. We reported the news.

And then you did what you do. You comforted us.

The Blackhawks honored Mike with a moment of silence before a game. Arlington Park held a race in his honor.

People wrote gushy letters to the editor. Sports radio was awash with talk about what a great guy Mike was. There was a resolution submitted in Springfield to honor Mike, courtesy of Matt Murphy, a state senator from Palatine.

All of this mattered greatly to his family -- his real family and those of us at the Daily Herald who've known and loved him for 23 years.

Mike's loss, as everyone's, becomes more acute at certain times of the year.

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He wrote "Bears Bites," a collection of witticisms he derived from each Bears game. Lord knows many of us miss the levity he would have injected into this disastrous Bears season.

To all of you who came to our side during this terrible time, thank you.

The following is a column Opinion Page Editor Jim Slusher wrote on Jan. 22. I think it sums things up nicely.

A newspaper is a peculiar sort of family. Reporters, photographers, editors, clerks, advertising sales people, artists all forge relationships under stressful and unpredictable circumstances into a bond of great strength. We follow the careers and family lives of colleagues who move on to new paths in the vast network of journalism and public affairs. Secretaries who retired 30 years ago return for the company Christmas party. Companywide notes are not uncommon describing major life events, and sometimes the passing, of a co-worker from long ago.

So, the blow strikes with particular brutality when such a note describes the loss of someone with whom we work closely, someone we may have just seen a day or two ago, someone with whom we likely -- in the case of Mike Spellman, certainly -- just shared a joke or a laugh. Someone so spirited and comparatively young -- he would have turned 51 Wednesday. And it strikes again for many among us who must set aside their grief and swallow their shock, then turn around and either make decisions about how their colleague's death will be covered or actually do the covering.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

With 23 years of sports coverage at the Daily Herald and a popular sports column, Mike was well-known among Daily Herald sports readers and especially among the vast fraternity of journalists who worked alongside him at some stage in their careers. News of his death from an apparent heart attack spread quickly, and indeed fears that we might appear disrespectful if we didn't post a report before it became a topic of conversation in cyberspace added to the pressures our editors balanced in deciding how and when to announce news many were themselves still trying to absorb.

Now, we search for a balancing point that acknowledges and responds to the issues we would consider in reporting the death of any other public person. A point that candidly strives to show readers the broader humanity of someone with whom their direct connection is limited to the singular dimensions of whatever it is that made his death newsworthy, yet that also reflects the deep affection and personal respect we felt for him, all while striving not to overly indulge our impulses to broadcast that affection and respect with all our resources.

You will learn much about an excellent journalist and a beloved human through our front-page story today and the columns of Mike's sports colleagues, but a scene from Wednesday's news meeting may help describe both how we handle the challenges of writing about him and the nature of who he was. Editors were reflecting on where it was most appropriate for our news story about him to run. Should it be in Sports, where he most often appeared? On the front page? If so, streamlined across the top or tucked into a corner at the bottom?

Managing Editor Jim Baumann turned to Sports Editor Tom Quinlan. "Tom, what do you think?" he asked.

"I don't think Mike would have cared," Quinlan said with a soft smile.

There were light, knowing laughs around the table and thoughts of Mike's humble lack of pretense. We moved on to provide coverage about the loss of someone from our "family" whom we want you to know, hopefully in the balanced way you care to learn about him.

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