Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The irreplaceable editor

There's something I need to say.

You know how people -- mostly in corporations and crap -- say no one is irreplaceable? That's bulls***. The folks in North Platte, Neb., learned how irreplaceable Keith Blackledge was when he retired as editor of the North Platte Telegraph.

They learned how irreplaceable he was when he was no longer at the little daily newspaper, and no longer was taking punk kids right out of college and turning them into grown-up reporters and editors who, frankly, learned more in North Platte than they had in several years of journalism school. North Platte also learned how irreplaceable Keith was when -- suddenly -- the little newspaper that could . . . couldn't. Well, at least not nearly so much as it had under the steady -- and sometimes bemused -- leadership of Keith Blackledge.

People learned how irreplaceable one newspaper editor was when he no longer sat in that corner office at the Telegraph. When he no longer could will, it seemed, a little city to do what needed to be done, establish what needed to be established and build what needed to be built.

They also learned how irreplaceable Keith was when he grew too frail to serve on the approximately 98 trillion committees and boards he had served on for decades and decades.

AND NOW we all are learning how irreplaceable Keith Blackledge is as a presence in our lives -- as a living example of how to love the place where God has put you, do a job to the best of your ability and then teach your charges how to do that, too. We're learning that because time waits for no man -- not even Keith -- and it finally has taken that presence away from us.

We can't replace it. We can't replace the best damned boss we ever had -- those of us who were blessed enough to pass through the Telegraph newsroom on our way to somewhere, alas, not as good.

Almost three decades ago, a know-it-all, smartass kid from way south of the Mason-Dixon Line trekked out to the Sandhills of Nebraska to give Keith Blackledge a spring and a summer of hard work, some more-or-less decent news stories and, no doubt, a serious case -- or 20 -- of acid indigestion, with the odd migraine thrown in as lagniappe.

In return, Keith gave me a graduate-level, hands-on education in community journalism, a well-deserved ass-chewing or two, several friends for life . . . and my dear wife of 27 years -- the wire editor I stole from him on my way out the door.

I got the better end of the deal. Keith, meantime, was left holding an IOU I couldn't repay, not even if I had six lifetimes to try.

At the wedding shower, he also gave me the best advice I've ever gotten. Keith advised me that I should take care of all the monumental things in Mrs. Favog's and my marriage -- you know, world peace, geopolitics, erasing the national debt and divining the meaning of life -- while letting my new bride handle everything else. You know, like what I'll wear, where I'll go, where we'd live, what we'd eat, when I should just shut the hell up . . . stuff like that.

So far, it's worked out pretty damned well.

Except that I just broke Keith's rule about cussing in the newsroom.

I only can hope that the best damned newspaperman ever will forgive me this one last transgression. After all, I was -- and am -- replaceable.


Russell W. said...

I wish this post had a "like" button.

I also had a Keith. He's enjoying retirement ... and basking in the success (whether real or alleged!) of those he tutelaged over his years. Facebook is cool that way.

Funny you mention learning more in a real-time work environment than in a classroom; broadcast, we both know, is just like print in that way.

I suspect "Mr. C" has stacks of similar loan notes from punks like me who could never begin to repay what he taught us. All of the values I hold about radio were taught me by him. I rebelled at times and chafed at what I felt was a big tyrannical side. He planted the seeds and years later they sprouted.

All I can do is thank him and do my best to ply what he taught me in what I do each day ... and hope God considers that as Legal Tender for this debt.

Salzypat said...

I was one of those that Keith took the clay and started the process of making a writer/reporter. I didn't get to work with him too long before he retired, but it was long enough that I got a whole lot of education - and a few scowls along the way.

Keith was always willing to share his thoughts on a headline or a story. It was usually when we asked for his opinion; he rarely put in his 2 cents worth unless he knew it was welcome. There were many times throughout my 20 years at the Telegraph that I went to him for advice - how to handle a situation,what approach to take on a story.

I will always be grateful for the opportunity he gave me and for the education he provided.

Well said, The Mighty Favog