January 8, 2008

Have no fear: The short man will see you now

The scene for me then was much like it is today: an editor at a small, perpetually struggling weekly newspaper whose “independence” always trumped the late hours, erratic schedules and perpetual fear that I would miss something and damage the newspaper’s rather unpredictable credibility. I was news editor at The Louisville Cardinal, the weekly indie paper at the University of Louisville that continues to scrape by with little assistance and no formal journalism program to egg it on. My yearlong tenure there had seen, most notably, the start of the Iraq War. Understanding at a relatively young age where my favored brand of journalism was nudging me, I transformed the front page into an indictment of the impending war, covering every protest with all the fervor and bluster a politically active college student could offer. And with a razor-thin staff and unreasonably low wages for freelancers, I was stuck writing many of the stories myself.Every so often we met with the paper’s advisory board, the group of seasoned journalists giving us guidance. Bob Schulman, who looked at once too old to be there and too young to die, showed up every time, ready to offer criticism whether you wanted it or not. I feared this short man. He was a giant even to me, someone too young to remember his glory days around here. I knew innately to listen when he swung those bespectacled eyes toward me and, always with a slight smile, laid it on. Schulman greeted me that morning with three issues laid out on the table before him. Each had a war feature, and probably eight of the 10 stories had my byline. I prepared myself for a lecture about objectivity and bias, about the need for a multitude of voices despite financial hardships. Instead, a smile poked into his cheeks. “You gonna let anybody else write?” He laughed. I laughed, a small, twitchy sound. “You’re doing some great work here. Keep it up.” In the five years since then, I was lucky enough to chat with Bob a handful of times, and he always gleefully complimented my work for LEO and others. Frankly, I was surprised he knew who I was, let alone kept up with my journalism. But his memory never failed him with me, nor did his sharpness. Without saying so, he prodded me to seek the momentum and follow it, bullheaded and obstinate. I’m still listening. Contact the writer at sgeorge@leoweekly.com