The loss of journalism hurts us all, but this one was personal

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

I was going to write a column for this week about how bad the state legislature is and how lousy the May referendum question is on the governor’s emergency powers, but to be honest, those are topics I could write about any time.

I’m a bit in a rush to get this done this week because I have to be out of town this weekend: a college friend and fellow journalist died earlier this year and his memorial service is happening up in North Jersey this weekend.

While writing, I was thinking that my friend Rich and I were kind of like the last of our little group of aspiring journalists from the early 1980s to still be plying our craft, having both returned to our roots as community journalists.

Rich was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He could be tough as a journalist when needed, never shied away from asking the tough questions when appropriate, but never saw the need to seek out conflict. He saw the good in most people and never acquired the cynical outlook so many of us in the journalism business end up with by default. 

An example: he rooted for the Mets and the Yankees at the same time — as anyone from the New York area knows, most folks including me (Let’s Go Mets), root for one and despise the other. But he was happy to be at either New York ballpark, beer and hot dog in hand, rooting for the home team, although I always knew the Yankees were his favorite.

But that was Rich. He didn’t see the need to dislike one team because he rooted for another — he wanted everyone to win. He could cover tough political stories, but loved to write about the underdog who rose above it all, the people stories so important to good community journalism.

Without his skill to see the good in everyone, I might well have ended up on a different career path.

When I was an 18-year old freshman at then William Paterson College, Rich was the Editor in Chief of The Beacon, our college newspaper. I’d been stringing (what we called freelance correspondents in those days) for my local community paper since I was 16 and thought I was pretty hot stuff. Despite my obnoxious, wildly misplaced arrogance, Rich put up with me and welcomed me into a tight group of aspiring journalists that put the paper out weekly. As with all young journalists, mistakes were made and some (but not nearly enough) humility was learned.

As I progressed through college, I was lucky enough to be able to ditch a fast food job and get hired on staff at the local paper, covering high school sports. My passion for the business grew and I learned literally every aspect of newspapering, doing layout and paste up, working in the darkroom, editing…everything, even carrying page plates to the pressroom, sometimes.

Rich embarked on a similar journey and after college, we stayed in touch intermittently, less so when I left New Jersey to take my first magazine job in Philadelphia in 1995. Years later, social media brought us back together, and he was very supportive of my efforts with The Times. He was always there with a kind word or advice, even as I literally worked my way into a two-week stay in the hospital from overdoing it, professionally, in the middle of last decade. He helped me find a better balance between work and life.

The sad thing about our business is that we’ve lost too many folks like Rich. We lost Rich to cancer, but so many folks like him have been run out of the business — the people who knew how to tell a local story and put in it perspective.

When I put on my publisher hat — the role that made me cut back content at The Times to stop the fiscal bleeding and get us back on a sustainable path as much as it pained the editor in me — I understand the cold facts: digital ad revenue stinks (thank you Google and Facebook, among others) and you can’t hire people with no money. Look at all the other newspapers/sites in the area: everyone has had to cut back on coverage, little or no meeting coverage, less school sports, less features. The once mighty Philadelphia Inquirer shut down its own printing plant this past week, ending some 192 years of printing its own paper.

That means less of the kind of small town journalists my friend Rich was — people who know their local towns and people and told their stories so well for decades. I mourn Rich’s loss, the world is much poorer place for it.

But I know he mourned the loss to his profession of so many good people, so many great stories left untold.

We all should.

Every day our time is taken up reading some conspiracy crap on social media, that’s an opportunity we lost for someone to write a story about a local elementary school’s charity drive. Or the feature about the life-long duffer who hit a miracle hole-in-one at the local golf course. Or maybe just something as mundane as when your street is getting repaved.

This is what we lose. Every day.

And as much as I will miss Rich, I know he is in a better place now, with a story to tell and a deadline to meet.

I wish those of us still here could always say the same.    


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One Comment

  1. VR says:

    Moving story.
    Rest in peace, Rich.

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