Journalism is a funny business


Because we tend to move around a lot in this business, if you stay in long enough you'll soon run across someone who knows someone you've worked with elsewhere, possibly on the other side of the country.For example, a guy I once worked with in New Mexico now lives just south of here and is looking to move to Vermont.

And I just read about a reporter joining Seven Days. He worked with two people in California who I also worked with in New Mexico.

As large as the country is and as many journalists as there are in newsrooms across this country, these connections happen more often than you'd imagine.

When I first got to Vermont in 2005, an editor in my newsroom knew a crotchety old editor named Bill Long.

I told her that I had worked with Bill out west and she relayed my greetings to him.

Word came back a few days later.

"Tell that punk he's in my patch now and he'd better watch himself."

That's Bill.

Bill was a heck of a good journalist who, some 20 or so years ago was brought into the newsroom where I worked in New Mexico to whip us into shape and teach us the ways of MediaNews Group, the company that had just purchased our newspaper from local owners.

The MediaNews part of that situation didn't turn out so well, as anybody who follows the industry knows, that company was known for maximizing profits by starving newsrooms of the resources needed to do a good job. Despite a dedication to news, and employing some really great newsies like Bill, MediaNews papers tended to never have the staff or resources to excel. Profits were the goal. Newsrooms were expenses on the balance sheet.

When Bill walked into our building, we looked at him with a crooked eye and didn't want to like him. He's the one who came in after the corporate suits had decimated our newsroom and sent a third of our co-workers to the unemployment line.

But, Bill was one of those guys who hid a heart of gold behind his gruff mannerisms and his heart pumped the ink of decades of newspaper work.

He won us over by rolling up his sleeves and working alongside us to improve our newspaper.

One day Bill bellowed from his editor's office, "who has a camera?"

This was at least a decade before phones included cameras capable of taking high-resolution photos and it seems our photogs were nowhere to be found as big news was breaking that demanded a photo.

I made a mistake and admitted I had a camera. What I didn't tell him was that this camera was at least two decades old, was fully manual (no autofocus, exposure, etc.) and had no light meter because of a dead battery.

Besides, I wasn't a photographer.

Bill didn't care.

"I want a photo that will lead the paper," Bill said as he all but shoved me out the door, followed by, "And don't screw up."

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The photo op was actually what is known as a perp walk, where a person accused of a crime is led by police from one place to another — perhaps from a vehicle into court, or, in this case, from the police station to a police car.

The alleged crime was, indeed, heinous and I joined photographers from several TV stations and the state's largest daily as we waited for the door to open.

It was cool outside, but I was sweating bullets.

In these situations, when the door opens, you often get one shot to get your photo before the person drops their head or covers their face with their hands.

Television cameras are rolling and will catch all the action. But, a still photographer has to press the shutter at exactly the right moment with the face in focus and the light meter set just right. I held a camera that promised none of those things.

To top it off, this camera didn't have a motor drive so I would get one shot before I had to wind the film at which point, the opportunity would be gone.

Somehow, the photo gods smiled on me and everything worked like I knew what I was doing. The door opened, the woman looked directly at me as she stepped into the sunlight, I triggered the shutter on the space where I had prefocused, the pressed the shutter. Her photo ran at the top of A1 the following morning.

Bill never said a word about the photo.

He wasn't the kind of guy who handed out kudos for doing your job. It was the expectation no matter how difficult it was.

Bill was dedicated to good journalism and putting out great newspapers.

He taught me a lot about newspapers and journalism in our time together and developed a friendship. Sadly, a half a year or so later MediaNews shipped him off to another newsroom that needed to be whipped into shape.

This was long before Facebook brought old co-workers back into our lives and kept us in touch with each other.

And then, I moved to Vermont and found that three of Vermont's daily newspapers — the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal — were in the same chain Bill had worked for.

And, now, 14 years after I moved to Vermont and 20 or so years since I met Bill Long, I'm working for the same group of newspapers, now thankfully owned by New England Newspapers, that Bill Long was long associated with.

I sent out an email to some folks in the chain to see if anybody knew Bill.

The answer was immediate.

It seems Bill had an impact on a lot of people and some 20 years later, it seems Bill is still teaching me newspapers.

Today, I carry a digital SLR nearly everywhere I go in this job. You never know when someone might need a photo for A1.

Darren Marcy is the editor of the Manchester Journal. He can be reached by email at or by cell at 802-681-6534.


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