I love Mike, but there were times he drove me up a wall. I’d sit, staring at my computer trying not to walk over to his cubicle and scream at him and toss my drink in his face. You know the image of the dog with a bone, it’s shaking its head and not letting the bone go. Not now. Not for hours. That was Mike. But you know what, if I ever started a newsroom, he’d be one of the first people three people I called. And I’d put him high up in the newsroom. Because Mike will not hold back. If he’s reporting, he’ll get the information you need. If you’re stuck trying to figure out the ethics of something, he might have a different take then you, and you’re better off listening to him. Even if you don’t end up agreeing with him.
There are few people I respect more.
Watching Mike work a source remains one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in a newsroom. He’d call into his sources all the time. They’d have small talk. I remember him one time on the phone with a source and saying “How’s the kid? Was the birthday party a fun. I bet it was.” You see a lot of schmoozer’s in journalism. People who want to work you. What was awesome about Mike – and awesome is an overused word, but this was truly awesome – was that when he hung up the phone he would tell you about the source’s kid. I remember Mike telling me he met the source’s kid one time. He kept saying, “Great kid. Just a great kid.” That was Mike. He wasn’t just getting a story. He was learning about his community. He was making his community better.
Mike’s no longer a journalist. Hasn’t been for almost a decade. His community is worse for it.
I don’t think I spoke to Chris the first few weeks I worked with her. She was a photographer and I was on the copydesk, so we didn’t have much interaction. But I listened to her talk about things with other photographers. They’d talk about life, or pop culture, or journalism. Chris was passionate about what she did. “Someday, I’m gonna have a daughter. I hope she turns out like her,” I remember thinking one day.
I saw Dave come out of the Managing Editor’s office the day he got the job offer after years of working as a stringer. “Working” doesn’t do it justice. Dave busted his ass. I had to edit some of Dave’s photo packages before he got a fulltime gig. When you saw his name on the file, you knew you were getting something good. You could tell he didn’t just show up for 20 minutes. He’d been there early and stayed as late as he could. He’d talked to people. He was one of the best photographers I’ve worked with and I’m incredibly lucky to have worked with a dozen or so great ones. Whenever things happened after hours, he’d be the guy who showed up. When Dave got hired that day, you could see the joy on his face. I couldn’t do it justice with 50,000 words. But one of Dave’s pictures could.
Dave still works in news. He’s a journalist to his core.
Greg and I would scream at each other at my kitchen table. “You’re a fool,” I’d yell. Molly would get awkward. Thirty seconds later, we’d be laughing at Bryan. Greg, Bryan and I worked on the same staff and spent many a late night – usually sober – arguing sports and journalism. We’d all hang out on our days off, playing softball, going to games or playing boardgames. Molly couldn’t understand how two people could scream at each other and care so much about each other. A week rarely goes by when I don’t think of Greg.
Bryan left journalism to serve in the military. Greg is still on the job.
Steve was fun to talk to. He was a sports writer for another paper and somewhat of a competitor. He had a quick smile and a great sense of humor. When he met Molly, he smiled at me and said, “I know what it’s like to marry up. Congrats.” He was about 10 years older, but as lively as the kids we covered. Later, I’d share a newsroom with kids. Steve got sick and the kids he covered cared so much about him they did a fundraiser for him.
Erin was the first person I ever managed. Truth be told, she was better at her job than I was at mine. Few people in journalism taught me more. We’d argue sometimes, but I remember the laughs far more. When Molly got pregnant, Erin put together a wonderful shower. I doubt she’ll ever know what that meant to me. When Erin wrote about something, she’d spend hours researching it. She’d talk to as many people as she could. And she’d give you a well written story that flowed with insight and perspective. Erin would come in every day incredibly prepared and knowing what was going on on her beat. She made amazing cookies. The best.
Charles told me to wear gloves. It was going to be cold. I was at my second job out of college and we were in this tiny satellite office, typing up our stories in less than 20 minutes. I remember going to ask him a question and realizing I could see his breath. Every day, Charles would walk down to the newsstand a block from our bureau and pick up a copy of the competition. He’d rifle through it, making sure we didn’t miss anything. One day, he paused on a page and looked at me. “We missed this,” he said. Then he paused and you could see the wheels turning. He thought we might have written about it a few months earlier. An hour later he had his answer. He had written about it. Charles also broke one of the strangest stories I ever read. A local township had moved PennDOT’s speed limit signs without PennDOT’s approval. Literally pulled them out of the ground and moved them. PennDOT was not amused.
Marc did magic tricks. He told really funny jokes. He knew everything there was to know about the Gettysburg Battlefield. And when a Dad threatened to sue me because of something I’d written about his daughter and ex-wife, Marc stood by my side.
Chuck worked every day I worked every day but three in the two years I worked under him. Literally was in the newsroom every day. He didn’t know what a day off meant.
Jason had a smile and a story every day. He had just met the coolest person. Every day, he met the coolest person on earth. And he’d tell their story through video or photos.
Angie, Bill, Emily, Matt and I would eat lunch at Olive Garden once a week. That’s splurging for journalists. I sat next to Angie, who suffered the full force of my bizarre rants before they ever made their way onto Facebook. Angie didn’t want to go to the breakroom one day because she was waiting for a source to call. Hours after he was supposed to call, she was still sitting there. Finally, she got up to get a soda when the phone rang. She could have beaten Usain Bolt back to her desk. Emily was cursed by a cranky councilwoman. The lady sent some old Italian curse on her. Matt’s one of the best people I know. He never seemed to panic. Not even when a house burned to the ground on deadline and he had to change the entire front page in about 12 minutes. Bill will never let me forget that I love “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” He’s also one of the best writers I know. Lunch with those four was an absolute joy.
C.J. shotgunned two-liters. He smiled often and, well, I don’t know what else to say, but I’ll never forget him.
James hugged the wall when the Managing Editor introduced us. He wouldn’t shake my hand. He just mumbled something. He continued doing that the whole year I worked with him.
Matt Was the kindest person I’ve ever met. He’s the father every dad hopes to be. And he loved Jeopardy.
Tom could tear a phone book in half and always gave you a good pun.
Jeff ate prison loaf, wore sandles and brought a gallon of water that he shared with me at a game when the sun bore down on us.
Sean was terrified of clowns and didn’t want to go out when the scanner said there was a bloody clown holding an axe on the town square. So I went. There was no clown. Just some goth kid. With no axe. But he did have skeleton gloves. But Sean had to call parents after their kids died. So did a lot of people I worked with. So did I. I don’t know one person who took joy in it.
I had four friends who covered Newtown. It weighed heavily on them. I know journalists who’ve worked at the biggest news outlets in the world. CNN. The Washington Post. I also know journalists who have never left 10,000 circulation papers. I have great admiration for more than half the people I worked alongside. There are a few who were bad at their jobs. I can count on one hand the ones who didn’t really care about their communities. Half of those didn’t last a year in the business.