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.