During the 42 years I worked as a newspaperman I made a couple of wrong turns into editing, once for eight months, once for 18 months. I thought it was time to try to start working my way up the management ladder. I had done all right at reporting so they pretty much had to give me a shot.
I didn’t like editing and, truth be told, I wasn’t all that good at it.
As a reporter it got to the point where I rarely had to work with anybody I didn’t respect, who couldn’t carry their end of the stick. As an editor it wasn’t that way, I had to make do with the reporters I was given — some of whom were excellent, some of whom were, I’m being generous, pretty average.
There wasn’t anything I could do about that. It was frustrating. I couldn’t fire them or discipline them. And I didn’t have the temperament for holding someone’s hand, coaxing good work out of them or, at least, better work.
Maybe I was a little too intense.
I got into a dispute in The News & Observer parking lot one afternoon with another N&O employee who had parked in my spot twice.
“You better calm down,” he told me, “before you have a coronary.”
A reporter who worked for me, at least in theory, told me the same thing, but more gently. He said I ought to get a dog and quit drinking coffee.
Coming Friday: A Language He Understood