Day Job, Newspapers

My Day Job

Well, I didn’t expect this to happen. Once I was done with my job as the managing editor of The Taos News, I figured I was finished with the news biz. No more deadlines. No more being in the thick of what was happening in the community. No more complaints about coverage. No more… oh the list goes on.

But then I found an opportunity I couldn’t let slip away: running the editorial department of the Greenfield Recorder in Western Massachusetts. And — surprise — I got hired as the editor-in-chief.

At the start of March, my life became suddenly busy as I learned the ropes and after a month, I went solo. Actually, I was extraordinarily busy as we were missing a news editor, so until we were able to fill that position, I was working two jobs. As you might guess, that didn’t leave me time for much of anything else, like my own writing. But thankfully, that has changed, and I’m back into my next book. (I will admit, however, I have cut back on my social media presence.)

So, what’s this newspaper like? The Greenfield Recorder, founded in 1792, is a daily paper covering 26 towns in Franklin County in Massachusetts. It has one town that became a city — Greenfield. The rest are towns of varying sizes. Most are very rural. I live in one of them, so I am mindful we need to give people the info they need to make good decisions about their communities — and often entertain them. Yes, we are a community newspaper.

The Recorder — that’s its logo above — is owned by Newspapers of New England, which has a total of nine papers in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, including the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where I once worked as a reporter and editor a long time ago. I like my bosses.

I feel fortunate to have inherited a great staff from my predecessor. Most are millennials who came here straight from college or their first job. Including sports, we have eight reporters (we just hired a sport reporter and are currently down one position on the news-side we’re trying to fill), two photographers, and five editors not including me. They are a hard-working and friendly group — I am often amused by the topics of their spontaneous conversations.

I’m glad I had the experience at The Taos News and can apply what I learned when I was the boss there. For instance, don’t lead by emotion. Help to bring out the best in your staff. (My question every day: What do you have for the front page?) Express appreciation for the work our staff does. I represent the paper wherever I go, so I need to be on best behavior. Oh, the list goes on.

Yes, once again, I’m in the thick of things. And I’m liking it.

THE SWEET SPOT: Hey, suddenly people are catching onto The Sweet Spot, a novel I published two years ago. Set in the hill towns of Western Mass., it’s the story of what happens when a woman is thescan TSS center of a small town’s biggest scandal. It has many of my favorite characters. Here take a look:





Newspapers, Taos, Writing

I’m Outta Here

It’s official: I am leaving my job as the managing editor of The Taos News on May 5. I’ve been at it for nearly eight years. It’s time for a change.

I began working as a journalist 31 years ago, when I was a correspondent for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, one of the oldest dailies in the nation. I reported on the town where I lived, Worthington, population 1,400.

Worthington, a hill town in Western Massachusetts, had a surprising amount of news. The first lesson I learned is that I’d better get my story right because it was likely I would run into that person the next day at the general store.

At the start, I had to write my story on a typewriter and drive 40 minutes to the newsroom so someone could type it into the paper’s computer system. Then I was given a Radio Shack laptop that showed seven lines on its tiny screen. I plugged it into the phone jack to send my story and called to make sure the editor got it. Over the years, technology improved until now the web is a vital reporting tool.

Eventually I added several hill towns to my beat. I attended meetings (my favorite was the venerable Town Meeting although a Worthington Board of Health meeting about pigs was a close second). I wrote features and columns. Occasionally there was breaking news, typically a house fire. I did get big stories to cover like the closing of a nuclear power plant. I even went to the White House to interview Tony Lake, who was national security adviser during Bill Clinton’s first term and a Worthington resident.

I am grateful for the opportunity to report on those towns. I had to listen to the way people talk and observe how they behave. That’s been a great help for my fiction.

I became a line editor, then a copy and special sections editor at the Gazette.

As for managing editor of The Taos News, I sort of fell into that job. After Hank and I moved here in 2006, I freelanced for the paper before I was hired as its copy editor. After a year, I became the managing editor.

It’s not an easy time for newspapers. Reading habits have changed — moving from fiber to cyber. During my time as managing editor, I’ve watched many newspapers struggle to keep readership. Some have folded. But The Taos News remains strong.

Taoseños are engaged in their community, and frankly there is nowhere else to get the news our staff reports. I like to think the editorial team covers the heck out of Taos County. (I will miss my colleagues.) Of course, a paper can’t continue without the business side working hard as well. And to keep things on the up and up, a firewall exists between editorial and advertisement.

And those in the industry must feel we are doing right things because the paper has racked up numerous awards, including best weekly in the nation for six of the eight years I’ve been here.

While it has been a fulfilling job, it hasn’t been an easy one at times. I’ve been expected to write hard-hitting editorials and make political endorsements, which has often displeased folks. I’ve been sworn at over the phone. Once a group of critics holding a protest outside the newsroom over coverage chanted my name.

Fortunately I have a thick skin.

On Friday, the paper held a sweet party in my honor. As part of the sendoff, the editorial team created a fake front page for me. It’s hilariously funny with inside jokes. I plan to frame it for my office.

The only parts I will share are the banner headline: “Editor’s exit a boon for ill-behaving officials” and the cartoon, Bill Baron, created above.

The May 5 paper is my last. This week I am working with my replacement to show him the ropes.

Some people who know I am leaving the news biz have asked what I plan to do. I will concentrate on my fiction and other writing projects that have already come my way. We will stay put in Taos but be able to see our family — we have six grown kids and a granddaughter — that is spread around the country more often.

It’s been a great ride, but now I will be going in a different direction. Or as Joey, one of the characters in my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What, says about Lenora, who is graduating and splitting for Europe: “That’s right. She’s outta here.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Bill Baron, political cartoonist for The Taos News, created that cartoon for me. Bill has been my co-conspirator on the paper’s op-ed page.


Newspapers, Writing

Happy for My Friends

Last week the New England Newspaper and Press Association named the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton the “Newspaper of the Year.” I am happy for my former paper.

First, I know how hard the newspaper’s staff, including many of my former colleagues, works to cover the communities of Western Massachusetts. I follow the news from afar still on its website Besides the hard news, such as holding government officials accountable, the Gazette balances it with the fun stuff.

Jerrey Roberts' photo

Gazette photographer Jerrey Roberts’ photo of Ellen Bartos

Here’s an example: Take a look at Jerrey Roberts’ photo from the paper’s website of Ellen Bartos walking her horse, Teddy, from a neighbor’s pasture back home. The cutline notes the woman’s horses are enjoying the “last of the good fall grass.”

I am now the managing editor of The Taos News, a weekly paper in Northern New Mexico, and I owe my start to the Gazette.

I never took a journalism course or wrote for a newspaper but an editor agreed to take me on as a correspondent for my town of Worthington, population 1,200. Worthington has one church, one bar, and one stoplight. I had to get the story right. After all, it was most likely I would run into the people I quoted at the town’s only store the next day.

Front Page

The front page  of the weekend  Gazette

When I first started, I used to write my story on a typewriter and drive it down to the newsroom where one of the staff would type it into the system. Then, the paper gave me a Radio Shack laptop that showed seven lines of copy on its screen. That’s all the computer could do, plus send the story over my phone line to the newsroom. I got paid by the inch.

I used the laptop for years until I got my own computer.

My territory expanded to other hilltowns. I covered meetings, events and any news that concerned each one. I wrote features. The hilltowns may have been small but they were rich with interesting country people and at times controversy.

As a result I became a braver person.

me and tony lake

I ask Tony Lake a question in his White House office in this photo by Gordon Daniels when he worked at the Gazette.

Eventually, I got to take on tougher stories such as the closing of a nuclear power plant. I interviewed Tony Lake, national security adviser under President Bill Clinton who had a farm in Worthington, at the White House.

I was hired full-time as a reporter, then a columnist, line and copy editor during my 21 years with the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

I figure those early years working as a correspondent were the equivalent of a BA in journalism.

Now I oversee the production of a newspaper, which wins its share of awards. I believe our staff covers the heck out of this community.

So I am grateful to The Daily Hampshire Gazette for giving me a chance long ago and for teaching me about community journalism. Congratulations, friends, for a job well done.

ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: I snapped this photo today of Victor Higgins’ painting “Winter Funeral” hanging in the Harwood Museum of Art. It is my favorite Taos painting and the subject of my story for The Taos News’ Winter Visitor’s Guide.