For one night in 1993, it seemed that my newspaper reporting career would be tragically short-lived. If not for John Cole giving me a second chance, I probably wouldn’t still be in journalism and certainly not at USA TODAY.
Cole was the editor of the first newspaper I ever worked for. Earlier today, friends and colleagues gathered at a memorial service in Avon Lake, Ohio to remember Cole, who died unexpectedly this month at age 61.
Most of what I have to say has already been quoted in the many obituaries (Lorain Morning Journal, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Elyria Chronicle-Telegram) and columns (Richard Osborne, Andy Young) written about Cole’s passing.
Osborne glosses over the embarrassing details, but it’s true that Cole once fired me. He later told a colleague, ”Do you know the two best decisions I’ve ever made in this job? The first was firing Korte. The second was re-hiring him.”
Osborne also refers to a memo Cole posted on the newsroom bulletin board, circa 1996, that I still keep posted on my cubicle wall in Washington — 15 years and three jobs later. Despite all the changes in the industry, it’s still a recipe for a great newspaper. And it summarizes John Cole’s legacy better than I ever could:
I think it’s important for us to remember what The Morning Journal is, what it stands for, what it projects.
I want us to develop a firm sense of who we are in relation to our competition. We can dominate this market if we can establish a strong, distinctive personality.
Here are some of my thoughts on what I want us to be.
I would rather be interesting than important. It would be nice to be both, but if I had to choose, I’d choose interesting.
I want us to be colorful and attention-grabbing, but not sensational. It’s often a difficult line to draw.
It’s important to me that we’re well-written (both copy and headlines) and accurate. I want us to have a good sense of humor.
I dread being boring and I’m not proud of us when we hurt someone through carelessness or inattention.
I want to sell newspapers and I believe we can do that by touching peoples’ lives by touching their emotions.
I want stories and pictures that make me feel something mad, sad, glad, scared.
I want courage, compassion, passion.
I want us to stand up for someone who needs our help.
I want us to omit needless words. See Rule 21, Strunk White.
I want us to have fun, be positive, be thoughtful.
I want us to write about families, jobs, crime, health, environment and the future. I want to know about relationships, personal health and fitness, fashion, consumer issues, trends and influential people.