Hank’s departure from the Journal

Maybe it’s silly, this sense of loss. Nobody died and I never actually worked at the Journal. My only contributions to that publication have been monthly columns, an occasional review. But somehow I found my freelancing self repeatedly popping in to the Eureka office, eager to pester the crew with whatever excuse I’d fabricated to justify my visit. I adored the easy camaraderie and even more, the way being around such clever, talented people inspired me to sharpen my own writing, forced me to smarten up my own conversations. I was crazy for the way they made print journalism matter all over again.

Now, I love my job. Love, love, love, love it. But if I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I would’ve begged Hank to hire me. He inspires that kind of enthusiasm. The NCJ news team gave off that rarest of impressions: that they were all people who woke up looking forward to their jobs. When I pitched the money column, he supported it. I never wrote it for Hank, but a desire to impress him with my writing colored my efforts — he kept the bar high in his own work and cultivated excellence in his people.

It’s weird, the past tense. The guy has class. I continue to be blown away by how well he keeps his cool, is able to talk down even the most rabid of complainers without losing his temper or his sincerity. I’m sure his standards will remain top shelf regardless of what role he takes next. I know those of us with the good fortune to inhabit the same space will continue to come away better for it.

But I’m so sad that the thriving little world he created as Journal editor has been smashed to bits. And that’s just the really selfish feeling-sorry-for-my-own-self part. I imagine the team crestfallen over this turn of events. Sure,  Burns and Walters will keep on telling stories in their artful, intelligent ways. Seven-O-Heaven will march on. Well, unless they find something better — and from the outside, suddenly a lot of options look “better.” And if they go, then we end up with the real tragedy: the disintegration of the most readable, in-depth news stories around. (And funny! The funny is so important! Damn!)

Look, I realize even the people who make a point to grab a Journal each week likely won’t get too worked up about an editorial change. Powering through the daily grind takes a lot. Google answers our questions and Facebook provides our social fix. Print media is such a novelty –useful for killing time while waiting for a latte. Also a good fire-starter when priming the woodstove. But some of us still think it matters, that knowing what’s going on in our communities makes a tangible difference in how we live our lives. We also like a well-crafted story and to be entertained. Under Hank’s command, the Journal did all that. Does all that. Did? Not sure. Without Hank at the helm, that particular ship might very likely run aground.

Occasionally I disagreed with Hank’s ideas of what made a good cover story. Vehemently. But if I wanted to only read exactly what I wanted and to only think exactly what I already do, I’d never bother with a newspaper and would just spend all day reading simpatico blogs instead. Mostly, I looked forward to reading what Hank wrote, whether Town Dandy or hard news. So much of what makes the Journal good stemmed from his influence. With Hank gone and the new editorial vision mired in drama, I fear for the future. And am really, really sad that the present was rear-ended right into the past.

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14 Comments

  1. I felt the same way Jen. That crew brought me in with open arms, and I found myself making excuses to drop by their office. I told Hank this earlier, but he taught me much about how to write without fear of consequence–not to write recklessly without consideration, but to write without fear of repercussion. That was how he wrote his columns and stories, and certainly what he inspired in a freelancer like myself.

    His departure is a major loss for this community, and like the naysayers who cheered the demise of the Eureka Reporter only to long for its existence once the reality set in, so it shall be with this.

    Reply
  2. J. Aubrey-Herzog

     /  February 5, 2011

    Thanks for this Jen. You expressed many of the feelings I’ve had over the last week or two as an occasional freelancer for the Journal.

    I only did two cover stories for the paper, but Hank was a great help to me in shaping the stories, and I learned quite a bit from him.

    I’ll miss what Hank brought to the paper, and the ham handed way the transition was handled doesn’t bode well for the future.

    Reply
  3. Jen,

    I tried to squeeze out a response last night to Hank’s leaving but couldn’t. But now I know why, you had written it for me.

    Hank encouraged me in my writing. In fact, I’d say his and Bob’s encouragement is why I get paid to write.

    I echo John’s response. “His departure is a major loss for this community, and like the naysayers who cheered the demise of the Eureka Reporter only to long for its existence once the reality set in, so it shall be with this.” Will the Journal continue to explore alternative areas of our community and still remain relevant for the rest of us? Without Hank’s guidance, I don’t think so.

    Reply
  4. JS

     /  February 5, 2011

    1. Would someone care to expound on why this whole thing started? As an outsider, it has the feeling of supporting an old buddy from the past, rather than being spurred by any real need to improve the Journal.

    2. If there was a push for “hybrid journalism,” why offend the one person capable of creating that change? It sounds like the new guy wrote about technology while the old guy actually understood the technology at the programming level and was an excellent writer on top of that.

    3. Does this mean the Journal’s touted plan to become a hybrid publication is dead in the water? Just spume, the last remnants of a mighty wave that crashed on the shore, its energy expended, left now to pop and dwindle as beach scum as the tide recedes? Sorry, that background photo is getting to me.

    Reply
  5. Mike Dronkers

     /  February 5, 2011

    I think one of Hank’s biggest triumphs was, through sheer wit and style, getting more young people interested in old media.

    Was this held against him?

    Reply
  6. Andrew Bird

     /  February 5, 2011

    In my naivete and desire to believe the best about everybody and every situation, I initially assumed that Hank had a role in luring Tom Abate back to the Journal and that the two of them had a grand plan to move the Journal to the next level (whatever that may be). It was a bummer to learn how this actually happened, and it’s even more of a downer to learn that Hank is indeed out of the Journal.

    Reply
  7. jackdurham

     /  February 5, 2011

    My guess is that this “hybrid journalism” term is just a fancy way of saying “We’re going to beef up our website, do more blogging, tweeting, facebooking, etc.” Oh, and maybe a little radio. When you’re a free publication, why not? It just takes a little more manpower.

    Reply
  8. Occasionally Hank and I would see each other while covering the same story. He would sometimes look at me with bewilderment but was always encouraging none the less. He gave me some good advice when he told me to put more of a local emphasis on my blog. I encouraged him to do more radio. With 16 commercial radio stations in the market and many other non commercial radio stations, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear him coming out of my car radio sometime soon.

    Where ever you end up Hank, you have a lot of fans. Myself included.

    Reply
  9. JS

     /  February 6, 2011

    1. Was the editorial cartoon included with the new editor’s knowledge?

    2. Did H leave or get fired?

    Reply
  10. JS (nice initials), you ask good questions, but I can’t comment on the inner workings of the NCJ, other than to say Hank wasn’t fired, but opted to resign.

    Reply
  11. JS

     /  February 6, 2011

    Wait, you can’t acknowledge that the Journal is control of what it’s printing in its own pages? Okay, ’nuff said.

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Reply
  12. I mean, I don’t work there. So I can’t say how the production part works as far as who sees what before it all goes to press.

    Reply
  13. John Smith

     /  February 6, 2011

    I can understand staff protecting their jobs, but columnists? How much do columnists get paid?

    I’ve got to assume columnists aren’t in it for the money, and so they must enjoy writing and/or the public exposure. Except, they have unlimited outlets for writing (certainly, via the Internet), so it must be the public exposure that’s important.

    How strongly do you feel about the situation at the Journal? Is there a point at which you would decide to leave, either because you don’t like the management, or you don’t like how staff or a staff member is treated? As one columnist put it, “WTF?” Is that just a gasp, or is that shock and outrage/disappointment? What is your breaking point?

    Reply
  14. RockhouseJones

     /  February 14, 2011

    Hi Jen,

    If you are able and willing to comment about such matters, I’d love to hear an update to this story now that Hank is playing for your team.

    Reply

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