Monday, June 29, 2009

Thanks, dsmcg

Yesterday evening I went down to Ironton, Ohio, to pay my respects to the first editor who took me under his wing to make me a better newspaperman. David Stephen Francis Joseph McGuire -- Dave -- passed away last week afer several years of kidney and heart problems.

Dave was the most focused newspaperman I encountered in my thirty-year career at The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington, W.Va. And he was the best teacher of newspapering that I ever had.

The one thing I really appreciated about Dave was that he trusted us to do our jobs. He was as far removed from being a micromanager as you can expect while still making sure you did what you were supposed to. Dave figured that we reporters were hired to do a job because we were able and willing, so he trusted us to do it. He didn’t like seeing to many reporters in the newsroom. As he told me once, there’s no news happening in here. On a particularly slow summer day, he told me to spend a few hours driving around Lawrence County, Ohio, to look for something interesting. Even if I didn’t find anything, I would know more about the county I was assigned to cover.

Dave had a lot of faith in me early on. He allowed me to explore my interest in the Ohio River and the people, places and things on it, in it, along it, under it and over it. With his help, I wrote some pretty good stuff. When I got off track, he wasn’t afraid to use some four-letter words to straighten me out. But when he got on you, you knew he was right and that you needed it.

Dave rose up the hierarchy at The Herald-Dispatch, but eventually he ran into editors sent here by corporate who didn’t appreciate his plain-spoken dedication to old-style newspapering. They moved him over to the copydesk, where he spent five nights a week writing headlines and placing stories on pages. From what I hear, he helped a few young copyeditors get their heads on straight, too.

One thing I liked about Dave was how he could let you know you had made a mistake, but he used it as a moment for teaching, not berating or humiliation. Once he was reading one of my stories and decided he needed to remove a word. “We can let everyone know he’s a liar without using ‘however,’ ” Dave told me.

And he protected the people he supervised. Back in the early 1980s, I noticed a lot of the Ford dealerships in smaller towns in our area had closed, and I did a story that led the Sunday Business page. The dealer in Huntington complained about how he was left out. Dave refused to have me do another story, saying the piece was about small-town dealers, not urban ones. Another reporter was assigned to do a puff piece on that particular advertiser to keep him happy.

When The Herald-Dispatch eliminated my job on May 22, a lot of my younger colleagues told me how much they appreciated the help I had given them over the years. I had guided them in finding sources, in writing articles on complex topics in simple language, and in the peculiar history of our region. I realized last night that I had been doing for these younguns what Dave had done for me.

Many of us who respected Dave and were found of him have swapped stories these past few days. He was a blue-collar Irish Catholic boy who studied for the priesthood for a year, then decided “the Lord’s boot camp” wasn’t for him. He loved the University of Kentucky Wildcats, although I can’t recall him ever telling of ever setting foot on the campus or in Rupp Arena. But he grew up in Ashland, Ky., where rooting for UK is genetic.

And Dave was never fond of computers. The HD got its first computer system in or around 1974. It wasn’t long after that that Dave decided “technology sucks.” He said those words so often that many of us can’t talk of Dave without using those words.

So thanks, Dave, for teaching so many of us and allowing us to develop our talents and interests under your firm and fair hand. Thanks for being a newspaperman whose dedication was to the product, not your personal ambition.

If the newspaper industry today is in trouble, it’s because it has forced out people like Dave McGuire.

RIP, Dave. You’ll never know how much you’re missed.

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