On Thanksgiving, I “crossed the river” and spent the holiday with my “Ohio relatives,” eating turkey on Second Avenue in Gallipolis. There were people there I’ve known my entire life, as well as complete strangers. Since it was my day off, I didn’t bother asking questions about the identities or purpose of the strangers around the dessert table.
Getting a day off as a reporter doesn’t happen often, as we’re always on call and always thinking a day ahead – thinking about how to fill the next edition. I suppose we’d make terrible Buddhists, because we’re never just in the moment. I once heard a journalist describe what she did as creating “significant ice cubes.” To me, that meant her stories had form and function, but only for a finite amount of time. The next day, the creation process starts all over again, if we’re lucky.
Starting from zero each day can be a blessing and a frustration in this business. It’s a blessing when nothing went right the day before and perhaps even mistakes were made that needed corrected. If you’re in this business for one day or 47 years, you will make mistakes for all to see. Although, unlike “civilians” who have the option of tossing mistakes into the trash can and oblivion, reporters print up thousands of copies for all to see. I can’t take credit for that analogy, that goes to Charlene Hoeflich, my first editor and mentor. As readers, I’m sure you know we do make mistakes from time to time but I assure you, we know it when it happens. We get a feeling in our gut similar to tripping in public before a large audience. We strive to never feel that again. As my former editor Stephanie Filson described it, sometimes, “we choke on the humanity of it all” in the process of getting the news out.
A person who taught me to get the news out, was a person who also taught me about the “humanity of it all.” The late Brian J. Reed, long-time staff writer for The Daily Sentinel and Sunday Times-Sentinel, passed away five years ago this month. Though he had health issues, his passing was unexpected at the time and left us all feeling as though the universe had tripped in public, though there was no way to correct it. I keep a piece Brian wrote on my desk that reminds me to always look to the next day, despite any mistakes, despite the triumphs of the story everyone is reading on Tuesday, or the ordinary Wednesday edition.
About a year before he died, Brian had scribbled a favorite quote on a piece of paper and stuck it on the wall of his office in The Daily Sentinel. It was by Albert Camus who wrote that, in the depths of winter he finally learned there lay within him an “invincible summer.”
I thought the quote was intriguing at the time but I never asked Brian to elaborate on what it meant to him, though clearly it meant something. A year after he died, a mutual friend messaged me a column Brian had written about that quote and more. Contained within it was the reminder to keep looking ahead, despite evidence to the contrary and no matter the season. He wrote it two months before he died from complications of heart disease at 44 years old. I’ll end my column with a portion of it here as a reminder of the humanity of it all, the next day and the next edition. By the way, I’m sure Brian would appreciate having the last word.
“As this summer turns to autumn, I face frightening uncertainties. The quotation is still on the wall, and I’m beginning to understand why I put it there. It was for the same reason I made certain changes, why I uncharacteristically pursued unlikely new friendships just because they seemed right, why I worked harder to be myself, but kinder, and to forgive more.
It was to prepare for what was ahead a year later. And here I am.
We all have our stark winters and for your writer, this summer has been one. But I remind myself today that regardless of what the calendar says, another brilliant and invincible summer is just days away.”
Beth Sergent is the editor of Ohio Valley Publishing, which includes The Daily Sentinel, Gallipolis Daily Tribune, Point Pleasant Register and Sunday Times-Sentinel. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.