Alan Riquelmy: Hoping for a handshake
The editor deserved a slap.
And I, wanting to keep my job, opted against giving him one.
It was a regular day, nothing special. I’d failed to get some document, secure some source, and obviously had ticked off the boss.
That’s when he turned from me, and began talking to some person nearby. In this pretend, whispered voice I could easily hear, the editor began to explain, in expressive language, how I messed up.
I remember thinking — if I’m ever the editor, I’m not going to do that.
Likewise, there was this other editor, who after praising one reporter for writing a great story, told me: I’ll let you know you’ve written a good story when it happens.
Little pieces of the past like that have floated to surface over the past few months, ever since I found myself sitting in the editor’s chair. How an interaction could have gone a different direction with the slightest change of phrase, or a word unspoken. We build memories on moments like these, and solidify other people’s reputations in our minds over the course of a few sentences.
The newspaper industry, I’ve found, brings some of the best successes I’ve known, along with the worst points of my past. There have been times when waiting tables, and getting a dime tip, would be preferable than some days at the paper.
And, believe me, I’ve gotten that tip. I know how it feels.
But I, like so many others, have stuck with newspapers because there’s no other business like this. I’ve done customer service, and I’ve waited my fair share of tables. Why return to that when you can cover an election, or watch the defendant’s face in the seconds before the bailiff reads the verdict, and then write a story everyone will read? There’s electricity in those moments you can’t find elsewhere.
We’re shaped by the negative as much as the positive. At my first job in this business, there was a public information officer for the police who was, simply, horrible. To hear it from them, they’d been in my industry, they knew exactly how I should do my job, and would tell me so, pointedly.
My editor at the time told me I’d likely never again deal with someone that awful in my whole career. Bold statement to a guy who’d been in the job under a year, but he was right. Mostly.
Lessons can be drawn from all these examples. The PIO who had the number of the newspaper’s owner and would complain to him directly. The snide manager who thought himself better than everyone else. The haughty editor who espoused religious ideals, then mocked coworkers.Their negatives each form a building block of myself, informing me what not to do and what steps to avoid.
Couple these with the positive impacts, and I might just become a well-rounded person. That’s not just important for me, but for the newspaper you’re reading right now. A manager can make a tough job invigorating and rewarding, or the worst place to work.
The strength of our newsroom is reflected in the people who live and work it every day. Reporters already have it tough. They don’t need a flawed editor making it worse.
Admittedly, we’re all flawed. The horrible PIO will tell you that.
But I’d like to think that, years from now, when seeing a former reporter, they’d smile and give me a handshake.
And not a slap.
Alan Riquelmy is the editor of the Sierra Sun and The Union. He can be reached at 530-477-4239.
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