This new world order we find ourselves in is as fast-paced as I’ve ever seen. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been here before. Just look back to the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th. Those days were alive with newspaper edition after newspaper edition throughout any given day , screaming headlines “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” It was a constant barrage of news over any given 24-hour cycle.
Furthermore, when people start complaining about today’s news media as being unfair, biased or hyper-critical, just harken back to the 1910s. You’ll find a news media swamped with exclamatory headlines, language beyond colorful and so biased you swear the person the story was about was written by the person the story was about.
In those days, it was all about the headline. Sound familiar. Today is no different. Twitter, Facebook, so on and so forth, is all about the headline.
In ruminating about this conundrum, I thought of an editor and publisher I worked for years ago in the newspaper business. Wayne Lee, who passed away for sometime now, was a newspaperman through and through.
Mr. Lee never rose to national prominence in a real way, even though he helped secure a Pulitzer Prize for the Hutchinson News in Kansas in the early 60s. That newspaper had the award proudly displayed in the lobby. When I worked there as his managing editor, I would go out from time to time and meditate on the meaning of the highest award you can receive in the newspaper business. It was enclosed in a glass case on a sturdy mount of oak. It was something.
Mr. Lee hired me several different times. First as a reporter, right after working the copy desk of the Los Angeles Times where I was making a significant amount of money at one of the largest papers in the nation. The year was 1988, if memory serves, and Mr. Lee offered me a position as education reporter for about $10 an hour. I jumped at the chance.
My very first day on the job, at what was then called the “The Enterprise” of Simi Valley, Calif., a reporter who later went on to some national recognition, took me outside in the parking lot and told me “you’ve made the worst mistake of your life” coming to work at “The Enterprise.”
He said this because Mr. Lee did not hold to politeness, high pay, or time to develop the story, among other wild west-style antics of newsgathering. His newsrooms were tough, fast, loud and impolite.
Mr. Lee used to brag about the ability to write several stories in a day, boasting his best was 11 stories in one shift. I was to later see those stories one day that were stored away in his Kansas garage. They were full of typos and incomplete sentences, but they had the crux of the story nailed. He could actually write 11 stories in one eight-hour shift. He expected no less from anybody who chose to work for him.
When I worked at the Simi Valley Enterprise, it was an afternoon newspaper, and it served the city of the same name. Think about it. This was a daily newspaper delivered to porches and front doors in this city of 120,000. It was printed out of the same building that housed editorial, advertising, administration as well as other departments, on a road called Easy Street – great name for a street, don’t ya think. I used to tell people I have it made. I work on Easy Street. I know it’s stupid, but I don’t care. “The Enterprise” probably provided jobs to more than 700 people at any given time.
One morning, my shift began at 6 a.m. with a deadline at noon, I wrote five stories on completely different topics with multiple sources – not one anonymous – and when I screamed to my editor that I was having difficulty finishing a story, her scream back was: “Type faster!”
As we all know, newspapers today are gasping their last breaths. There are those who lament this evolution, and sometimes that includes me, but Mr. Lee would not be among the dissenters.
And here’s why: He loved news. Not how news was delivered, but news, itself. His motto was: “Everything is news so you have to cover everything.” He used to say that he wanted his newspaper to cover its readership area like the “morning dew.”
He would’ve been the first one to have a Twitter account or be on Facebook. And he would’ve been tweeting all day and night. He was passionate about news. I’ve never seen anything like it before, then or now. When he was publisher, he would still call in stories and dictate the news over the telephone. He never stopped. Never.
He was to be ultimately removed from his top position by corporate because his views and management style had not kept abreast of the political correctness required of today’s professional environments. His shouts that were once motivation had now become litigation.
I had the great honor and pleasure to serve him as a reporter, managing editor, editor and associate publisher. He taught me more about the news business than anybody. He was my mentor and I miss him.
I would love to hear his take on this brave new world. I guarantee he would not hesitate to share his views with you. He was not a shy man.
His two favorite phrases were “make no mistake about it” and “absolutely.” So, in his honor, the best newspaperman I ever knew was Wayne Lee. Absolutely and make no mistake about it. Talk soon.