Why I Disagree With My First Mentor



My first mentor was a bitter old man.

He'd been a journalist since college. He was well-known in New England as a call-it-like-it-is political columnist.

I frequently heard people say, "He's a nice man and a good journalist, but he's never both at the same time."

He came up through the newspaper ranks back when most journalists chain-smoked at their desks, when their fingers were stained from carbon copies and when many of them kept a flask of inspiration in their bottom drawer.

He was, above all things, cynical.

A decade later, I see him a bit differently, but to a young journalist, there's no more appealing role model than the crusty old columnist who thinks everyone is an idiot.

I worked with him for years. He tore apart my best efforts and rewrote them right in front of me. He complimented a headline I wrote once, but I think that was the only nice thing he ever said to me.

He also thought that entering annual newspaper awards was stupid. He said it often, and since he was the veteran who ran the newspaper without ever actually taking on the responsibility of being the editor, everyone listened and no one ever received any award for any piece of writing.

Back then, I agreed with him. Journalists shouldn't do what they do for glory or money. We write because we believe politicians should live up to their promises and if we don't stand up to them, no one will.

I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders back then and my mentor had me convinced that self-loathing was the most appropriate mode of operation for a journalist.

I was thinking of him on Saturday as I sat in my seat at the Arizona Newspapers Association conference, nervously picking at my nail polish, hoping for recognition for my reporters.

As they announced the names of Max Foster, Felicia Megdal, Carol La Valley and Teresa McQuerrey, I swelled with pride as if I was their mother.

This week, with a box of plaques we haven't even unpacked, there is a renewed sense of excitement in the office. It's a bit like New Year's Eve, where time is divided into then and now. It's a chance to see what you've accomplished, to be recognized for that, and take a moment to set some goals for the coming year.

And while getting yelled at is part of the job and feeling the pressure of deadlines is a daily workout for the nervous system, I don't agree with my old man mentor that journalists don't need recognition or positive feedback.

I was proud of my staff this week and I hope you were, too.

Watching us win may not be as exciting as standing on the sidelines of a playoff football game, but I think of it the same way.

The Payson Roundup is your hometown team, representing you in print and online to each other, the state and the nation.

And while you probably shouldn't tailgate in our parking lot while we print the paper, I hope that's how you see us -- as your winning team to cheer on and champion.

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