They were odd birds but they fit into a nest…

February 17, 2009

(Copyright 2009)

Call it too much time on my hands (although with incurable cancer, how can one have too much time?) but from time to time I put some past work colleague into Google to see what might have happened to the person.

Did that a few hours ago and found out the guy died a month ago of acute pancreatitis. I’m, 59, he was 57. For some reason I had thought he was much younger. Still of course much too young to be leaving this world.

He was a newspaper reporter. I said he was a past work colleague. I did not say he was a friend. He was not an enemy either. We simply shared some space in time at the same publication. I had talked and joked with him on a few occasions and I think we might have compared notes on a story or two.

What I can say about him, though, and I hope it is not disrespectful of the dearly departed, he was an odd bird who had a droll mannerism and dry sense of humor.

At the time, we were two journalists seemingly stuck in the small time at a bedroom community newspaper always overshadowed by the larger metropolitan newspaper.

We both suffered the same fate: the chain that owned the newspaper, first gutted it, converting it into a three-day per week publication (nowadays it’s down to one day and is the most amateur of amateur with no serious news) and finally sold out to another chain, and in the process we both, along with many others, were unceremoniously dumped (I think we did get three month’s pay, don’t recall for sure).

And that was the end of my so-called journalism career. I had gone through a love/hate/indifferent relationship with newspapers for a couple of decades and abandoned the field forever (until I began this blog, a kind of offshoot from my journalism experience).

In my desperation to find out what an out-of-work small-time newspaper reporter does, more than anything else, I had contacted my former colleague a couple times. At one point he had a temporary gig correcting SAT tests or something like that. About the same time, I tried my hand at substitute teaching , an uncomfortable memory of which I have never been able to commit to writing but a few words).

I eventually shifted gears entirely, one might say; I became a truck driver.

At some point I saw that he had got on with the metropolitan newspaper’s suburban throw away. I tried to contact him, but got no response.

But as I read his obituary I found out that suburban throw away was merged into the regular paper and he became a regular reporter. He volunteered for the police beat and got rave reviews from readers and colleagues.

One of the rave reviewers was his assistant city editor, a woman who worked with us both as the managing editor of that other newspaper. And since I am not naming names and since I doubt she will ever read this (don’t know), I want to say that she had her quirks too. A kind of odd bird, herself. But I have no question that she was a good editor. I think she had a sense of news and a good command of the English language. We had computers at that newspaper, but that was the old type. No spell check or anything like that. I have to laugh when folks think that computer technology replaces the need for grammar and editing ability (just read my blogs). Not yet. And what an ugly dehumanized world that would be anyway.

I knew she had gone on to a stint at a local business weekly and even a competing metropolitan daily that eventually folded. But now I see she finally made it to the big time.

The sad news, besides the death of my former colleague, is that newspapers seem to be dying too, including that metropolitan daily (it’s not dead yet, though).

But not only that, the breed those two people were part of (she still is) is dying out too.

He was the seemingly introverted reporter, quietly peeking around all the corners and digging into public records looking for information (the kind that is supposedly open and certainly useful to all of us, but at the same time the kind we have no time nor inclination to research – and this was pre-internet days when I knew him. She was the English teacher who apparently felt more at home directing writers in the real world, rather than the necessary, but nonetheless artificial world of the classroom. She was a competent writer in her own right, as well.

I read in his obituary that he may have not been completely introverted. He engaged in amateur acting and stand-up comedy (well, I imagine introverts are sometimes good at both of those).

And pathetic blog writer I am, I’ll steal from the writer of his obituary who noted that my former colleague had said that he sometimes practiced his comedy monologues by delivering them to a cow. He figured if you could make a cow laugh, you could make anyone laugh.

Real newspaper people were or are often odd birds, usually not glamorous, and strange as it might seem, not easily able to fit into society.

You see, that newspaper breed differ from their broadcast showbiz counterparts where pizzaz, sex appeal, and all-around showmanship takes the lead, with objective and even interesting reporting taking second fiddle.

Was I part of that old newspaper breed? Yes, to a degree. But the difference between them and me is that they were odd birds who fit into the nest. I may have been the former, but probably not the latter.

I miss that breed, even so.

P.s. I have seen some sign, nonetheless, that maybe thanks to blogging, writing news, as opposed to performing it strictly for the camera, may be alive and well, not so much from the blogging itself, but the interest it promotes in the written word.

P.s. P.s. In interest of accuracy, when I worked with my colleague on a daily bedroom community newspaper I was serving double duty as a daily reporter and as an editor of affiliated weekly newspapers.