A retiree's ode to the newsroom
The way it starts, this may not seem like a love letter. But I'm burying the lead.
In two decades as the editor of the Daily Herald, I rarely picked up a perfect paper. As an editor, your eye rushes to the imperfections -- another question that could have been asked, a more precise verb that could have been written, an underplayed story, a misspelled word, a typographical error. An error of any kind!
As mid 20th-century editor Arthur Christiansen said, "Show me a contented newspaper editor, and I will show you a bad newspaper."
After almost half a century in the profession, this is the way I read newspapers. I can no longer remember the times of my youth when I simply relaxed in the reading. Will my mood change back to that in my retirement?
Christiansen was the most famous British editor of his day, a relentless and tough son of a gun. He was famous for the demands he made on his newsroom and for the results it delivered. The circulation of the London Daily Express doubled under his watch from below 2 million to more than 4 million. He expected every staff member to read every word in the paper each morning. Every stick of type. He expected his editors to know not only everything the Express published, but everything the competing papers did too. Everything. By the time they gathered for the morning news conference.
That was the era I grew up in. You could call it the suffer-no-fools era. I had a J-school professor somewhat like Christiansen, and how I adored him and learned from him. But not everybody did. He didn't, shall we say, worry about hurt feelings. Today's era differs, and for the most part, that's a good thing. Respect is held in higher regard. Collaboration too.
That said, there was a lot to revere in Christiansen. On the other hand, he dropped dead in a TV studio at age 59. There are limits to how far you want your drive to take you.
One of the things you come to understand with age -- and to put into perspective -- is that none of us are perfect. I'm not perfect. Neither is anybody on the staff. The vantage point of my position has helped me see that with some clarity. You have to play to people's strengths, so you have to know who can catch up to high heat and who can hit a curve ball. When you've got Podsednik on the bench, you don't give Konerko the green light to steal second base in the bottom of the ninth. (I guess I date myself, as if the word "retirement" didn't do that already.)
You cannot get better without recognizing your flaws. As Barb Jenkins, a continuous improvement expert who once worked with us, used to say, "Criticism is a gift." And it is, if properly offered and perceptively welcomed. All of us move in cycles of evolution, and we all try to evolve into a better us.
But growth and imperfection isn't what I'd like you to remember about the people I've worked with in our newsroom.
Because I'd like you to appreciate the greatness in them. Each is great in some way. I can see this with clarity too. The greatness within them. This is absolutely true too. So true that I tear up as I type this.
That greatness, in each of them, is what makes this such a special place and yes, to me, such a special newspaper.
They are not here for glory or agendas or paychecks.
Truth be told, each is here to help. Each of them just wants to contribute.
They do whatever they can. Every day. Every story. Every photo. Every design. They just give their best.
Each of them wants to help make the world a little better place.
And my, my, my, my, my, they go the distance to do it. Such selfless, wonderful people.
I have been so blessed. You, as part of their audience, have been too.