At Wednesday evening’s monthly meeting of our Reader Advisory Board, the conversation started with my column last Sunday about how the holidays aren’t my favorite time of year and why this Christmas season is more fraught than usual.
OK, so the column was kind of dark. But it ended where I generally wind up when I’m feeling a little sorry for myself — gratitude.
It occurred to me that night that among the things I’m thankful for are the members of that board, who take time out of their busy schedules to provide editorial writer Lisa Thompson and me invaluable outside perspectives on how this community and our work intersect, and how we might do what we do better. It’s challenging to contain that dialogue to its appointed hour.
That meeting came a day after another reminder of all I have to be grateful for. The occasion was the retirement party of my longtime colleague Sandra Hartel.
Sandra was one of the people who laid out the paper, piecing together the daily geometry of ads and editorial content. That jigsaw puzzle is more challenging than it might sound, and I worked with Sandra a lot over the years, especially back when I was running the newsroom from day to day.
Sandra’s sendoff was a warm moment even by the standards for such things. The affection she earned over all of those years was palpable.
I could only linger for half an hour or so, because Lisa and I were pushing unforgiving deadlines heading into a holiday week. It’s important to stay ahead of the game, or at least keep up with it.
But I was at the party long enough to savor the surprise that came with it. In addition to current co-workers, Sandra’s shindig drew an eclectic mix of retirees and former co-workers.
It’s a good day when Sherry Rieder, long my wingwoman on the production side of things, and her husband, longtime Showcase editor Doug Rieder, are back in the building. Theirs and other familiar faces conjured a powerful nostalgia, not to mention memories that stretch back further than I like to acknowledge.
Next month will mark 36 years since the late Ed Mead, who was about my age back then, gave a rookie from Penn State his shot. I’ve tried to earn it ever since.
It was, after all, quite a break. Landing that gig filled a tall order.
I was a product of Watergate and Woodward and Bernstein’s “All the President’s Men,” sucked in by the allure of finding stuff out and telling people about it. But I also wanted to pursue my craft in Erie.
Then, as now, there was only one place in town where I could make a good living doing what I do — 12th and Sassafras. My chance came in the form of a veteran reporter’s well-timed pregnancy.
Having gotten lucky enough to land the job, I endeavored to be good at it. I’m still working on that.
I’ve inhabited a variety of roles over the years — reporter, copy editor, columnist, editorial page editor, city editor, production editor, managing editor. In all of its permutations, this has never been just a job, a way to pay the bills.
Covering my hometown has been a calling, and still is. While that hasn’t changed, much else certainly has.
When I started out, this was a family-owned company in boom times for the newspaper business. The internet was the stuff of science fiction then, as evidenced by the fact that the smartphone in your hand is more impressive than the gadgets on “Star Trek.”
Like it has to so many businesses, the internet disrupted and transformed the newspaper game. The business model got tougher even as the reach and forms of our work grew and morphed.
By the time I turned into the homestretch of my career, the Erie Times-News as I’d known it — family-owned, stand-alone — was increasingly unviable. So it came as no shock three years ago this month when the Mead family announced it was selling the paper to the GateHouse chain, which brought the essential economies of scale while retaining a local editorial voice.
In large part because the sale prompted a wave of retirements, I’m the second-most senior employee at the paper. The longest-serving, Bill Dietz, and I have wondered aloud over a beer at becoming the old-timers.
Sandra’s retirement again brought home just how long I’ve been working this gig and how much it has changed. But seeing some of those faces also reminded me of what a great ride it’s been and what stellar company I’ve kept.
Pat Howard can be reached at 870-1721. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ETNhoward.