It’s that time in the annual cycle of days, when the calendar resets and a new year begins, that we look ahead with anticipation and set sail for new achievements and better days.
But it’s been said you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. Those resolutions you’ve been making to eat smarter and lose weight, to travel somewhere new, to track down lost friends, to drive on only county roads with good gravel, and all the rest, they flow from looking back. Smarter or lighter than what? Than what you’ve been.
So before I look at what’s ahead for this oft frazzled but still resolute news editor, I’m going to take you along as I make a few stops in Mr. Peabody’s Way-Back machine.
When I came to work for the Marion County Record as a high school senior intern in 1975, my desk was about six feet away from where I’m typing. Bill Meyer, editor and old family friend, sat right about here.
For the first few weeks, I was scared out of my wits. It felt as if he knew every wrong keystroke the second I struck it, and I knew every scrap of writing I offered up had to be the worst thing Bill had ever seen. If it was, he never said so. He was a tough but encouraging teacher and mentor. I discovered I did know a little about writing, enough for him to work with.
That year, and the next couple of summers, I learned the value of proofreading the hard way. One such lesson was when we accidentally cured beloved Antelope correspondent Marj Nienstedt of her habit of calling those living in St. Luke’s West Wing “shut-ins” when somehow we missed that the “u” had been replaced with an “i.” It’s funny now, but we sure felt bad about it back then. Well, at least for a couple of days.
I wasn’t a photographer when I started, but Bill taught me the basics and let me learn from my mistakes. The biggest of those going to shoot a blazing house fire without checking to see that the film I loaded was advancing. It wasn’t. I came back to the office believing I had prize-winning front page gold, when in fact I had no pictures at all.
There were many other lessons learned, but the biggest was, without a doubt, an idea of how to practice community journalism with an eye toward what readers want, need, and deserve from a top-notch hometown weekly newspaper.
Now let’s hop back in the Way-Back Machine and come forward to the past 18 months when I’ve been sitting where Bill used to sit.
It’s never been an easy chair for me to sit in. Some days I’ve felt like I was sitting on his lap (imagine that, those of you who knew him and know me now, a good 40 pounds heavier than my first go-round here), with him breathing down my neck, scrutinizing every word. There are times I finish writing something and wonder, “If Bill were here, would it measure up?”
As with the first time, those days have become fewer, thanks in no small part to feedback from so many of you, our readers. Did you know there are still people who take the time to compose hand-written thank-you notes? I’ve loved getting every one of them.
But echoes of long ago linger. I can’t misload film in my digital camera, but I can and have forgotten to load the memory chip. While we’ve avoided inadvertent foul language, lessons learned about typos haven’t been the cure for avoiding them entirely.
Those, and others, are glimpses into the past that set my resolve for the year ahead. We’re good, darned good, particularly when compared to other weeklies in communities larger than ours. Our journalism peers have judged us so.
But we always can get better, for you and for us. As news editor, I believe I can lead us in that direction best if I make that biggest lesson my constant companion, and you’d be surprised how easily it can be obscured in the mad rush of a given week.
We’ve been your hometown community newspaper for more than 140 years, and none have been better at giving you what you want, what you need, and what you deserve. If I keep my eyes on that, and on our readers, then I suspect those images of Bill Meyer will be found sitting beside me instead of looking over my back, and you’ll see a newspaper this year that strives to live up to that legacy with every edition.
That’s my New Year’s resolution, and I’m sticking to it.
— david colburn