(A news obit, written & filed to Facebook on June 25, 2016).
By Jeremiah Horrigan
A desk. A phone. A computer. A place to hang your hat, or just a place to hang. It doesn’t sound very glamorous. Certainly not romantic. Until it all disappears.
I’m going to a wake tomorrow. Not a wake for a person. A wake for what most people would call an office. Those of us who worked there called it “the bureau.” It was a place where news was discovered, reported and written about. My connection to it ended a little more than a year ago. Everybody else’s connection to it — the list is long — ended on yesterday. After more than 20 years, the Ulster County bureau of the Middletown Times Herald-Record was officially shuttered. Killed off by the usual suspects — greedy owners, inept managers, the internet, the times. Dead and dying newspapers like The Record have such a rich variety of villains to blame for their demise, it hardly seems worth reporting the cause of death, it’s become so mundane.
Over its 20 years, the bureau occupied several offices across the county, all of them bare-bones, usually situated on the cheap side of town. Or even out of town. I’ve been a reporter who worked out of all the county’s bureaus, almost from the day the paper waded into the county. When I worked there, I thought of the bureau, when I thought of it at all, as a place. A place where I went to do my job. That meant sitting at a desk and working the phone and kibitzing with colleagues and writing stories and cursing editors I never saw and officials I saw too often, usually at night in drafty town halls or, less often, at some sweltering murder scene or worst of all, at a cemetery where a solitary bugler played Taps and young men wept bitter tears.
No one’s going to weep at tomorrow’s wake. We’ll drink beer and curse managers who wouldn’t dare set foot on the premises, the owner/ investors who see us as cogs in their money-making machine. We’ll toast each other and praise absent friends. And we’ll tell stories on and about each other and those friends, stories being the point of it all.
And then we’ll all go home. And once there, we’ll be alone with our thoughts and at least one of us will wonder where the time went and he’ll look for comfort in the usual direction he turns to. He’ll look to the past because he’s an old newspaperman and a sentimental fool who knows in his bones there’s no longer a place — a bureau — where what was best about newspapers can ever happen again.
Jeremiah Horrigan is an award-winning newspaper reporter, now retired, who has spent his professional life telling other people’s stories Over the years, his freelance essays, columns and features have appeared in The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and the Miami Herald. These days, he tells his story in Salon, Memoir Journal, narratively.com and in several national anthologies, including Woodstock Revisited and Pulse: Voices from the Heart of Medicine. He writes a bylined blog for the Huffington Post and is the author of a memoir, Fortunate Son: A Dying Father, an Angry Son and the War on the Home Front.