Tag Archives: Enterprise-Courier

Time of My Life, Part 40: Sharing experiences with students

One of the many joys of working as a journalist — and I had too many of them to count — was being given the chance to tell young people about the challenges of my craft.

Those opportunities came in the form of “career day” events at local schools. Whether in Oregon or in Texas, there was a time when educators thought enough of journalists and journalism to invite us into their classrooms to talk to students about career potential and what it takes to do what we did.

Over many years standing in front of students, I eventually developed a sort of pre-determined formal introduction. I usually would begin by telling students that “I have the best job in town. I get to report on our community and I get to foist my opinion on thousands of newspaper readers every day.”

I’d get a chuckle out of the students. Perhaps from their teachers, too.

I don’t know these days, given the pummeling that newspapers are taking in the current media market, what print journalists are telling students. I suspect it has something to do with the myriad pressures being exerted on newspapers, how they’re having to compete with the Internet, cable TV and assorted other media outlets.

One particular career day stands out among all the times I got to speak to students. I want to share it with you.

It was in 1983. I was working as editor of a small afternoon daily, The Enterprise-Courier, in Oregon City, Ore. My phone rang one day and on the other end was a gentleman named John Eide, who was the shop teacher at Harvey W. Scott Elementary School in Portland, where I attended as a boy. Mr. Eide invited me back to Harvey Scott School to give a career day presentation.

I hadn’t darkened the door at that school for 20-plus years. For this gentleman to call me and invite me back was a singular honor. It blew my mind.

So, I went back to Harvey Scott School for the day. I walked into the office and got reacquainted with my fifth-grade shop teacher. He then took me to Carl Hendricksen’s classroom. Mr. Hendricksen happened to be my sixth-grade teacher back in the day. To see him, with his hair turned snowy white, absolutely knocked me out!

I spent the day there, talking to students about newspapers, telling them about the challenges I faced each day publishing a newspaper that competed with the then-mighty Portland Oregonian.

Arguably, the highlight of the visit was walking into the school cafeteria. Perhaps others have experienced the same thing. This was a first for me: The cafeteria smelled precisely as I remembered it two decades earlier. It was as if I walked through a time portal and stood in a sort of parallel universe.

Career days such as that one routinely offered me the chance to share the joys and challenges of a career I was privileged to pursue. I hope my successors in the business are able to speak with as much enthusiasm about journalism as I did.

Time of My Life, Part 28: Probing a judge’s temperament

I had been on the job for about a year in 1978 when I got an assignment that got my juices flowing. I worked as a general assignment reporter for the Oregon City (Ore.) Enterprise-Courier.

Then my editor handed me a task. He had heard reports about a Clackamas County district judge that he thought needed attention.

The judge, Robert Mulvey, had been accused by lawyers who appeared in his court of lacking proper “judicial temperament,” which means that he was overly harsh on lawyers, witnesses, jurors and anyone he happened to encounter in the courthouse.

This would be my first investigative assignment for the newspaper. I began talking to defense counsel, prosecutors, courthouse staffers, sheriff’s deputies, fellow elected officials. They all said essentially the same thing: Judge Mulvey was a tough customer.

Indeed, I later found out that lawyers had filed complaints with the Oregon judicial conduct commission, which was empowered to hand down assorted forms of discipline or punishment to judges or lawyers about whom it received complaints.

I was able to talk to some of the legal eagles who had filed complaints against Mulvey.

I compiled a lot of evidence that the concerns that came across my editor’s desk had merit.

Then came the tough part: I had to speak to Judge Mulvey himself to get his side of the story. Fairness required me to do so. I did.

It was fascinating to me then — and it is now as I look back more than 40 years later — that Mulvey was so willing to talk about the accusations that his legal peers had leveled against him. He was a complete gentleman. He answered my questions directly. I don’t recall him denying any of the allegations that others had provided. He did explain himself fully.

I put the story together. It was a highly critical account of the way the judge adjudicated legal matters in the courtroom. It provided a stern look at his conduct and how poorly he treated those who stood and sat before him.

Judge Mulvey took it like a man.

Then came the clincher. Not long after the story saw print, Robert Mulvey died. Then the editor who assigned me to write the temperament story said I needed to call the judge’s wife to get a comment or two about her newly departed husband for a “news obituary” we published about the judge’s death.

My gut churned. I was nervous beyond belief. I called her. Told her my name and why I wanted to talk to her.

Mrs. Mulvey could not possibly have been nicer or more generous with her time.

It was, all in all, an amazing conclusion to an equally amazing task I had performed.

Time of My Life, Part 17: Revealing a little secret

I want to reveal a little secret about newspaper editorials, particularly those that “endorse” political candidates or issues.

I lost count a long time ago of the number of editorial endorsement interviews I conducted. Despite all the high-minded talk we used to offer about our motivations, our intent was to persuade readers to buy into whatever opinion we expressed.

I wrote editorials for three newspapers in my career that spanned more than 37 years. One in Oregon and two in Texas. I interviewed likely hundreds of candidates for public office. We always used to say on our opinion pages that our intent never was to persuade readers to adopt our view. To be candid, that was baloney!

Part of the fun I had writing editorials was helping lead the community we served. Whether Oregon City, Ore., or in Beaumont or Amarillo, Texas, we sought to provide a beacon for the community to follow. By definition, therefore, our intent was to persuade readers of our newspaper to accept that what we said was the truth as we saw it. If you did, then you would follow our lead.

Isn’t that a simple concept? Sure it is! It’s also one we avoided confronting head-on while we published editorials endorsing candidates or supporting issues that were placed on ballots.

I never was naïve to think that readers of our newspapers would be malleable creatures whose minds could be changed by what they read in the newspaper. But by golly, we never stopped trying to change minds.

We used to say publicly on our pages that we recognized and accepted that our readers were intelligent enough to make up their own mind and were able to cobble together rational reasons for the point of view they held. I’ll stand by that principle even though I no longer write for newspapers, but write only for myself.

I was having the time of my professional life interviewing those individuals, who came to us in search of our editorial endorsement or, if you’ll pardon the term, our blessing.

However, when you hear an opinion writer say with a straight face that he or she doesn’t intend to change anyone’s mind with an editorial, well . . . just try to stifle your laughter.