Friday, April 9, 2010

The Mentor

By Frank Absher

Back in the early ‘80s, we had a “senior” guy named John in the newsroom.

He was the very definition of “old school.”

John only worked on weekends, handling the desk. Interns feared his red pencil. Young turks made fun of him. The news director was so naïve that he didn’t know how much of an asset John was.

John would take the bus downtown to work and come shuffling in with his lunch bag, slowly make his way to the desk and settle in. After going through the material that had been prepared by the previous shift, he would set out to craft the news for the next several hours, as well as stuff that would run in morning drive the next day.

Veterans of journalism would marvel at the one item in John’s arsenal that was unmatched in the market – his little black book. It seemed as though he had everyone’s private phone number, as well as the home numbers of personal assistants who knew where to find their bosses.
Despite the fact that radio was the medium of instant news reporting, John never seemed to be in a hurry. In our market, there was very little radio news competition, and besides, he subscribed to the philosophy that it was more important to be correct than to be first.

I can honestly say I can’t remember any factual errors when John was there.

When it came time for his lunch break, the newsroom staff knew they were watching a legend. His loving wife Elaine would pack the most exquisite brown bag lunches we had ever seen, complete with a small table cloth and linen napkin. John would go into the news director’s office, clear a portion of the desk and spread out his feast. Interns knew that only something akin to the Second Coming would warrant disturbing John’s lunch.

Many years later I was going through some historic photos from the station but was unable to identify a couple people in the newsroom shots. Through the help of another former employee, I learned one of the men was John – much younger, more dapper – but the resemblance was finally clear.

A few years after I moved on to a different job, a young turk was responsible for convincing the naïve news director that John’s services were no longer needed. They said it was budget cuts.

The station would have been better off getting rid of the young turk.

I hope you were lucky enough to have encountered someone like John. I’ll never forget him.

Discuss on the STL Media Message Board. (Registration required)