[Life] Not living in, but learning from the past

You know how we always say we do not really realize we lived through history until after it was over?


The drama of certain events are so overwhelming that we just roll with it and only put it in perspective through the fullness time.


I have written before about the summer of 1969 and the universal, national and personal impact of that special summer.


It started with man’s first steps on the moon. My dad woke me up, my maternal grandfather happened to be visiting and so three generations sat there and watched this live show (TV was not often live then) on our little black-and-white living room television.


A couple of months later, my dad and I were at a Cubs game in their special season and saw Kenny Holtzman throw a no-hitter live. My dad was a lifelong baseball fan and mentioned at the time how rare a no-hitter was. I still have the scorecard, mostly in his handwriting.


A few more months later, my dad died at age 43, forever altering who I am and what I have become.


It took me almost two decades more to realize how all these events happened within months of each other. I had segmented my memory until then, placing the awesome perspectives in separate life chapters, rather than all in a rush of weeks.


And this kind of memory is what I am bringing to the death of newspapers, my first adult career, to which I devoted three decades.

You all know my analogy: That we in the  newspaper business kept perfecting the artform long after it was pass relevancy. It is like making the perfect buggy whip at last, the best darned buggy whip in the history of buggy whip evolutions.


Problem is, who needs a buggy whip nowadays outside of the Amish.


As newspaper fold into themselves, reduce actual size, therefore content and chances at new readers; as staffs dwindle, reducing and educated workforce; as the ’Net continues to flourish, all I see remaining are a lot of high salaries with scared hunkered-down mostly white male executives trying desperately to get to retirement.


I think of this as I think of the fine folks who have allowed me to use their names as references on my resume.


I am at an age where seven of the best I ever had listed in that endgame have passed away. All were great references for me and my career.


Now I list former coworkers, more as character references, but all younger than me which increases the chances I can keep the current list unrefreshed.


They knew what they were about. They knew and basically helped shaped the business as I know it. And, maybe, they will represent what newspapers meant when they were relevant.


Colleen “Koky” Dishon was a dynamic, impish woman who shared the survival of cancer with me and also came into my newspaper life late, sort retired then but still vital. She had helped define The Chicago Trib, my all-time favorite newspaper. She had broken many “this is the way we always do it”   rules along the way.


I think she would laugh now as some of the decades-old revamps she put in place at the smallish newspaper I was working then still use the changes. The point is to always change. Eventually changes become what they beheld,  a “this is the way we always do it” rule its ownself.


Doug Kneeland did it all, on all sizes of newspapers, proving talent is talent. He launched hundreds of careers and through them thousands. He also worked the Chi Trib at the end of his career life. On a whim, he got me an offer to move up into the chain at one of the outposts.


It was a life’s crossroads and I was not ready. He knew I was. I did not heed. I have never once complained about the choices I did make but this is one that would have been most interesting. A single guy would have jumped. I was not and did not.


Had I jumped, I maybe never would have met Cokie, but then I believe in fate and so probably would have.


In my real hometown, of Gary, I once witness the local newspaper actually getting better for an arc of a few years, four years in the ’80s. It has since dramatically declined and is back on a death watch as part of the Sun-Times debacle.


Beverly Kees was the editor who made the difference once called me when I was editing a small chain of weeklies in the area and just wanted to talk to whoever had attracted her attention with what she liked in newspapers.


It was me. I was having too much fun working with young folks and writing, writing, writing to want to make a move. She did. She took her impactful national life tour to Fresno and other places and was subsequently killed in a traffic accident.


Among my first great references was Jack Backer. He was in charge of establishing the Indiana Daily Student as the dominant college newspaper it remains.


He was a hands-on publisher, everybody’s pal, the first to meet and greet a newbie in the newsroom. We hit it off after I convinced Bib Greene to let us buy his column when Bob Greene was a big deal columnist that did not cut rates for anyone and certainly not for a school newspaper.


 Jack Back offered me a dream internship in Hawaii for simply achieving decent grades while writing, writing, writing and editing the paper.


I had just gotten married and could not see telling my bride I was off for a summer in Hawaii and she was to enjoy her summer in Bloomington.


Jack had redesigned more newspapers as a consultant than any man alive. Newspaper folks will know what modular layout means. If he didn’t invent it (and I suspect he did) he certainly elevated it and took it national.


He died of cancer while I was still an undergraduate. I volunteered to write his life story for the alumni association and got a lot of amazing responses for simply telling the truth, Maybe it was because I walked up to the unapproachable school president at a basketball game and asked for a comment. The guy was so shocked that a student would dare approach him, but he gave me a lead quote and I knew Jack would have just smiled at the attempt and success.


Lately, I had a lovely lady in Wyoming who defined that state’s newspapers. Carolyn B. Tyler had survived polio as a child and was forever wheelchair-active and CBT was a pistol. When I inherited her office long after her time there, there was this mail slot sorta thing connecting the office with the main newsroom, more like the drive-up at a bank than anything else.



I had to ask. It was her way of staying sane. You had something to say to her, you pushed it into her office that way. In other words, the door did not open unless it was really important. I sometimes sat in that office as a tribute to her, trying to absorb the magic she left behind. She asked if she could be a reference as she liked me. She passed this year.


Her body had finally given up. Her mind is still with us, though, because she visits me in the silent moments of the nights and gives me advice still.


These folks all lived the newspaper life and died while it still meant something. They enriched me. There is an old American Indian thought that believes a person never dies as long as someone remembers them.


I will not forget.


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