Editorials and opinions

the Chronicle turns 50!

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Notes from a newbie

by Joseph Gresser

I wake up every morning surprised and pleased to remember that I am the editor of the Chronicle.  I’ve been here for a while now, but when I look around at my wonderful colleagues, I see people who have worked here for decades more.

Over the years I’ve heard a lot of how it used to be.  For many years, when much of the reporting, editing, and production was done by a crew of young mothers, infants and toddlers napped under desks while their moms worked above their heads.

When I arrived the hours were more than slightly insane.  It was normal to be out very late Monday night covering a meeting or a game and be out Tuesday as well.  The deadline for the paper was 9 p.m. for anyone who didn’t have something to cover Tuesday night.  Those lucky souls had to get their copy in by midnight.

It was a rare week when we were out of the office before 2 a.m.

Those nights were difficult, but we all looked forward to Tuesdays because that was the day we all shared a meal together.  Sometimes, Tracy would barbecue on a grill outside, other times we would just have rotisserie chicken from the C&C.  The important thing was that we all had time to be together.

Before the economic calamity of 2007, the Chronicle had a staff of nine full- and part-time reporters and five people involved in production.  The reporters were mostly out running around and even when we were in the office, we were put in the basement editorial offices.

I don’t know whether we disturbed the production people, but the signature sound of the editorial side was loud, raucous laughter.  We sometimes joked the paper could make extra money by putting a camera downstairs and charging people to view the spectacle.

When I arrived Bethany M. Dunbar was editor along with Chris Braithwaite.  He had long before figured out how to play hooky for months at a time.  Most often that meant he had gotten sent by the Knight Foundation to a distant land to share his knowledge with journalists struggling to run newspapers.

He was forbidden to do any reporting on those trips, but sometimes he wrote a piece for the Chronicle on his return.  Chris was a wonderful editor in that he had an ability to pretend to forget anything he knew about the subject of a story.  That meant he could find the things that needed to be added to a story so a reader, new to the matter, could understand it in full.

He is also a superb writer.  I remember watching him at work tapping out a few words on his laptop, then getting up, pacing the floor, tearing at his hair.  He’d then sit down, glare at the screen, and say, to no one in particular, “Don’t you just hate writing?”

The result was always a limpid flow of prose that read as if it was the work of a man relaxing in a hammock with a glass of lemonade at his elbow.

Bethany worked with Jennifer Hersey Cleveland.  Both have given up reporting and moved on to doing things that actually affect the world, in Bethany’s case working at the Center for an Agricultural Economy in Hardwick and in Jen’s going to law school and becoming a public defender in St. Johnsbury.

Tena Starr was in and out of the office when I first started, but eventually she became my editor and teacher.  I can’t begin to think of how many times my copy was handed back to me covered with red ink and demands that I rewrite a sentence the right way around.

When I press my reporters to get copy in early, I can hear Tena’s roars of laughter ringing out if only in my mind.

On occasion, people have been kind enough to tell me they like my writing.  I always tell them that they’ve never read it.  What they enjoyed was the result of my work passed through the filter of an editor’s experience and then subjected to the gimlet eye of our proofreader, Georgia Young.

These days, as newspapers are trying to cut back any way they can, having a proofreader at all is a luxury.  Having someone as skilled and knowledgeable as Georgia is more than most can dream of.

If I sound enthusiastic about the people at the Chronicle, it is because I am in constant awe of their intelligence and competence.  As I write this production manager Lori Halsey is upstairs making tiny adjustments and tweaks to make the anniversary supplement as beautiful as possible.  She never just settles, it has to be right.

While I rarely see Paul Lefebvre in the office anymore, he is never far from my thoughts.  Whenever we interview a new reporter he always asks do you know what a lead is?  For those who don’t, it is the start of a news story, the piece that tells a reader what the story is about, and subtly entices the reader to follow it to its conclusion.

I remember him taking time when I first arrived here, showing me how to write about an election in a way that tells the reader that it was by Australian ballot without bogging down the opening lines by badly saying that.

Finally, Tracy Davis Pierce must have arrived here when she was six.  Maybe she was found under a desk.  However it may be, she’s been here forever keeping the ship afloat.  I was early on told that she is “the queen of mean and keeper of the green.”

The mean part is just a joke, but her watchful eye on incoming and outgoing cash, means we continue to do well in a world where many newspapers do not.

One of the first things I found when I started introducing myself as a Chronicle writer is that people almost always responded by saying, “I love the Chronicle.”

I hope our readers know the Chronicle loves them, too.  Without you, there would be no point in anything we do.

For me, I can say that I, too love the Chronicle, and the many talented dedicated people with whom I have had the pleasure of working during my brief time here.

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