Tuesday, March 06, 2007

"What do you make?"

A News-Review reader emailed this to me yesterday. There's been some debate on our commentary pages recently about whether public school teachers are paid too much.


The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life. One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued, "What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?" He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." To stress his point he said to another guest; "You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be honest. What do you make?"

Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, "You Want to know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began...)
"Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't make them sit for 5 without an I Pod, Game Cube or movie rental...

You want to know what I make?" (She paused again and looked at each and every person at the table.)
I make kids wonder.
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math.
I make my students from other countries learn everything they need to know in English while preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel safe.
I make my students stand to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, because we live in the United States of America.

Finally, I make them understand that if they use the gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their hearts, they can succeed in life. (Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.) "Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant... You want to know what I make?
I MAKE A DIFFERENCE. What do you make?

Monday, March 05, 2007

From lemons to lemonade

You have to expect change. And roll with it.

When you run a company with more than 50 full-time employees, and an equal number of part-timers and independent contractors (our dedicated and talented cadre of freelance writers and photographers), things are always changing. The sands are constantly shifting.

I've learned to accept it. Deal with it. Even grow and benefit from it. Often, you find yourself in a better place as a result.

When North Shore Sun editor Drew Crouthamel came into my office a month ago today and said, "Listen, there's no good way to say this..." my heart literally sunk in my chest. I knew what was coming. I did my best to "take it like a man." I cursed him out. All right, not exactly. But I didn't dissolve into tears, either. Even though, if the truth be told, I felt like crying.

Drew was a phenomenal addition to Times/Review's staff — an aggressive, fair and insightful journalist. And, boy, can he write. Editing a community newspaper was a new challenge for him — and it's no easy task — but he proved himself up to it. And The Sun's got some prestigious journalism awards on the walls to show for it. Not to mention a growing audience of loyal readers who appreciate the intensely local, high-quality community journalism that is Times/Review's hallmark. Under Drew's stewardship, The Sun has made great strides, evidenced by our circulation growth, vibrant commentary pages, and a Web site featuring breaking news and podcasts.

So of course I felt like crying. (And cursing.)

But as my grandmother used to say, when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. Count your blessings. Here they are:

The Sun, the "baby" of the Times/Review family at just 4 1/2 years old, is already a well-regarded, authoritative source for local news in Sun Land — our name for the communities we cover. It's a great community newspaper in the tradition of its older sisters, two of which date back to the 19th century. (The other one is almost as old as I am.) We're serious about community journalism, and the papers we put out every week demonstrate it, from cover to cover.

We've assembled an awesome editorial staff at The Sun. In the past year and a half, we hired sports editor Grant Parpan, who was an editor at a California daily before returning to Ridge, where he grew up; Frank Petrignani, a hardworking, nose-to-the-grindstone journalist; and Tom Burke, who (like me) found journalism as a second career in life and has been, well, born again; Joe Werkmeister, an award-winning collegiate sportswriter covers local sports with flair; and photographer Peter Blasl captures images of the people, events and beauty of Sun Land for us every week. Beyond our regular staff, we've got a growing network of citizen journalists who contribute to the lively, informative read you get when you pick up The Sun each week.

Our commitment to The Sun and its mission is deep. For that reason, I'm taking the helm to guide The Sun through its next phase of growth. I'm not "just" a publisher. I served as editor of The News-Review for nearly four years. During that time, the paper won a host of awards for its hard-hitting coverage of Riverhead Town, including the top award in community journalism in the state. I earned a reputation as a gutsy investigative journalist and I'm proud of it. That's what it's all about.

Our company is family-owned by people who take journalism — and its role in a democracy — seriously. We don't mix editorial and business. We even have two publishers, one to oversee each "side" of the company. Andrew Olsen runs sales, circulation and finance, and I oversee editorial and production. We don't make editorial decisions based on economic decisions. We don't cover events or issues — or look the other way — because advertisers want us to.

And we never, ever shy away from a fight if a fight is what it takes to get to the truth. Times/Review president, former co-publisher Troy Gustavson, wrote a short manifesto called "What We Stand For" in his first editorial after he and his wife, Joan, bought The Suffolk Times and The News-Review 30 years ago. "We stand for truth," he wrote. "We stand for excellence ... We stand for fairness ... We stand for self-determination ... We stand for non-partisanship." I've got that editorial taped up next to my desk for inspiration, when I need a reminder of why we do what we do and how important it is.

Those are the things we stand for today: truth, excellence, fairness, self-determination and non-partisanship.

And we've got the people and the gumption to carry it out.