This is my final newsletter for 2018. I’ll be taking next week off and then the next Middles will be in the new year and I already know what it’ll be about: Goal setting! Please send thoughts and recommendations on that my way.
I want to tell you a story about Don Murphy. Don was my editor at the San Luis Obispo Tribune, and if you’ve heard me talk about him, you’ve probably heard this story. Don had been my editor when I was covering wine and half the county in Paso Robles, and he muddled through an important but seemingly boring story about water rights with me. We both made the move back down to the main office, him as the night city editor, me as the night web producer and night cops reporter. It was my first stint in web-only stuff, though I still had to do cop calls and the errant accident story.
We would often watch Dancing with the Stars together, and talk. He was one of the best, a tough editor who asked good questions but an amazing human being. When he found out I drove down to San Diego in the middle of the night to see family and often took a nap at a rest stop, he coerced me to stay at his house in Santa Barbara instead, waking up to his wife Marie’s delicious coffee and breakfast.
In all truth, I was a pretty bad cops reporter. I hated talking to people at such difficult moments and I didn’t have the wiring to really deal with the cops well. There was this one accident. It was a semi versus a van full of migrant workers. It sounded bad, so I hopped in my car with my Thomas Guide and drove up to the winding highway that was often the scene of accidents. I got there before the police, before the ambulance. No one had made it. The only other person there was a TV station’s camera guy and he stopped me as I walked closer, “You don’t want to see that.”
But I did. My curiosity always gets the best of me. The van was full, maybe 6-8 people. No one was wearing a seatbelt. Someone had been thrown from the car. It was, and is, one of the images from my time reporting that will not go away. I called Don. I said it was pretty bad, and he asked how bad, I replied really bad, like horrible.
I wrote my story and went home, soldiering on like we do best.
Don, however, woke up the next day and called a friend of mine in the newsroom. It was my day off and he asked her to check on me. I later learned that he said that I seemed pretty shaken up from the scene and he just wanted to make sure I was OK.
Don was and is one of my favorite editors because he treated me as a human first. While I was at SRCCON:POWER, someone told me that the best bosses remember there is a body (and a heart) attached to the head. I wish I could remember who that was because it’s true.
The holiday season is tough on a lot of people. It is stressful, expensive, tiring, and full of awkward in addition to the chocolate, cookies, family and cheer. Take care of yourselves. You don’t have to get your staff a gift, but if you do, make it something thoughtful and representative. At the very least, be kind.
If The Middles has a mantra, it’s to be kind. That’s the best management and leadership advice I (or anyone else) can probably give you.