Not Quite News

Many moons ago I was city editor at a daily newspaper in Southern California owned by the Chicago Tribune. After I’d wrote (Mark Twain accepts this grammatical construction) OK, written, a couple of Sunday columns, the publisher called me into his office and closed the door.

“Bob,” he said, handing me the day’s edition, folded back to my column: “I don’t want this in my newspaper. I want a friendly newspaper.”

Hmmm, I thought. I wrote a humor column, I thought. I made jokes about everything.

I didn’t know him and he didn’t know me. I had just been unemployed for the only time in my adult life — six miserable months. I’d packed up and moved many miles across the desert to take this job. The internet was waddling around in diapers. I had snagged my dream job, again.

Most presidents and prime ministers, I believe, would be city editors if they could, because it’s more fun than being president or prime minister.

The publisher continued: “When our subscribers pick up our paper and open it over their coffee every morning, I want them to see their own face.”

Holy bad word! I thought.

That’s not what newspapers are for, I thought. That’s not what news is, either.

Shows what I knew.

This newspaper publisher was a fine man: smart, ethical, honest, kind and fair. He always tried to do the right thing, as he understood it. He didn’t know much about the news side of newspapers — he’d been hired as publisher from the ad side. But he was a fine man in every way.

He did not fire me for writing things that I am sure he thought were firing offenses.

In those days I was hanging on for dear life — three kids to support, a disabled wife, rent due. I got along fine with him. I did his bidding, much as I could, and he let me get away with the stuff I could get away with.

When the Tribune sold the newspaper to a family of grocers, the new bosses fired him before they fired me.

Actually, the new bosses never fired me. I hid out and did my job and escaped before the new bosses flipped the paper again, to newer bosses, who killed the newspaper.

Now, here is the thing: Anyone with the time, wherewithal and inclination could Google the hell out of this column and identify most of the people whose names I have not mentioned. So why am I writing in this semi-anonymous way?

Because I have a shred of decency, that’s why.

So, we disagreed. So what? I forget who it was who talked about lonely men on barstools, calling for another drink, who never forget anything and never learn anything.

Resentment is a killer. It’s a disease of small minds and small men. And it dominates U.S. politics today. Also politics in Italy. And in Hungary, Poland, Russia, Brazil, Venezuela …

I have no resentments about any of the days I spent at that newspaper, under its three owners, or any of the people I worked for, and with. I had some rough times, but I brought them on myself. I could have stayed a schoolteacher my whole life and retired on a pension, but no, I had to go into newspapers, at $6 an hour. I deserved everything I got — in both senses — and probably deserved a lot more than I got — in both senses.

I’m not dredging up my days as a city editor to bemoan anything, or dump on anyone, or try to extract revenge. I’m dredging them up to try to tell you what I learned.

Life hurts sometimes. Too bad for all of us. Get over it.

You know how to get over it? Don’t hang out with resentful people.

Above all, don’t vote for them, or listen to them and think you’re hearing the news.

(Courthouse News editor Robert Kahn once won an Honorable Mention in an Associated Press contest of news features shorter than 100 words. He forgets what it was about.)

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