Recently, I left a job I loved to try something new and different in the same field. For slightly more than four years, I was the editor of the Belmont Citizen-Herald in Belmont, Mass. I commuted between New Hampshire and Massachusetts, four to five times a week, working out of the GateHouse Media New England Lexington office. I spent anywhere from two to three hours in the car, spending thousands of dollars on gas, just to get to work. People used to shake their heads at me sometimes when I would talk about my love of journalism and how I didn't care about the commute ("There are 3,500 songs on my iPhone," I would say ...). Crazy, insane, sure, but when you love your job, you love your job (here is a link to my goodbye column, if anyone is interested in reading it: "Schinella: Goodbye to Belmont again").
I've been working in media for a long time. I kinda stumbled into it by accident after working long stints in retail, some political jobs and political efforts (mostly Dems and progressive indies), and both free and paid radio, etc.
I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I had experimented with all kinds of jobs and interests. I had done everything I ever wanted to do and journalism was one of those things on the list of things I wanted to do.
Before going back to the Citizen-Herald in 2007, I worked at WKXL radio in Concord. Before that, I was the editor of The Winchester Star, in Winchester, Mass., and was the reporter at the Citizen-Herald. I had spent 13 years doing radio at WMFO, the Tufts community FM station, and WUNR, a foreign language radio station. I hosted talk shows on both stations and also played various kinds of music. I also published my own nationally distributed music fanzine off and on for six years. I was in and out of various music groups, put out my own records and CDs, and played on a ton of other musicians' projects. And before and during all of that, I would write columns and letters wondering if anyone was really reading anything or thinking about new and different ways of doing things.
I had always loved journalism as a reader; so I was overwhelmed by it when I started doing it for work.
That is one of the reasons why I'm so excited that I have this new opportunity with AOL's Concord NH Patch site (concord-nh.patch.com).
One of the reasons I love working in journalism is the reaction people have about what you do. For the most part, it has been positive for me. Even the "negative" stories get a positive reaction because you're exposing corruption, fraud, or whatever. That's part of the job.
Another example is this: The reaction from literally hundreds of people after announcing my departure from the Citizen-Herald in May. Like I said at the beginning of this post, you really don't know what role you play in people's lives ... until you leave. Seriously, hundreds of emails, phone calls, notes online, and personal well wishes. It was shocking, actually, and, for a few fleeting moments I wondered, "What the hell am I doing?"
Some were so surprised I was leaving, literally screaming "Noooo!!!" or "What?!" in their email messages ... Most were pretty standard "Good luck" ... "You've done a great job" ... "You'll be missed" ... "It's such a loss" ... etc., as well as a ton of thank yous ... all heartfelt and touching notes that really moved me to no end.
Most of the nasty people, thankfully, stayed silent, which was nice. I personally liked a lot of them and found them to be colorful, thoughtful, and even brilliant people, if they weren't such nasty human beings (aren't a lot of people nasty human beings these days? So sad!). Most, generalizing, had two basic problems: A complete lack of understanding about what it means to be a journalist or were simply being spoiled brats.
There is nothing you can do about the latter. I was surprised though about how little empathy some readers - many of my generation, many with supposedly "liberal" or "progressive" values or thoughts - looked at things and acted upon them. "Me, me, me, mine, mine, mine," all the time, without any forethought of how their demands harmed other people, often in the name of children.
The former was pretty shocking, especially for an over-stimulated - and, in many cases, over-educated - class of people, who have become so polarized by their own personal beliefs of what the facts are that, in many cases, they have no idea what the facts truly are (these are the nasty, crazy people I am speaking of, not everyone in Belmont). Some had deep mental health or emotional issues - which was depressing and sad. Many others were users or "fair weather friends," if you will, who would quickly turn on a dime on anything (you get used to that in this business though ...).
I could write a book about the town ... and maybe I will someday. I don't know.
But overall, what a positive, nurturing experience it was covering Belmont. And you can see that in all of the goodbye comments and notes people sent. I mean, wow ... here are a few that really hit me the hardest.
First, this one woman, a very good source and a great community asset, wrote:
"I haven't written because I've been so distraught that you are leaving. Good for you.. bad for us. You really have been a joy - your savvy, your irreverence, your sense of humor and your intelligence. Award winning doesn't begin to cover it. You are fearless. You will always be a Superhero to me, Tony, with the cape and tights. Thank you."I started crying when I got that one. Who is this person you speak of, I thought? That's not me, is it?!? Yeah, sometimes, I would joke that I'm "Super Tony, I can do anything!" But it's just a joke, it's not, well, real ... Later, I ran into this person and together, we could barely contain the tears ... part sadness, part joy, all humanity ...
Here's another from Ruth Foster, this amazing 80-plus-year-old woman in
Belmont who wrote the newspaper's great gardening column. She ended her June 2, column by writing:
"I cannot end without a sad goodbye to my Belmont Citizen-Herald Editor, Tony Schinella. It has been a pleasure to have been a columnist for him. Over the years, I have had many editors, starting 35 years ago at the Christian Science Monitor, then the Boston Globe, and many magazines. Only a very few editors are real newspaper people. These professionals can make a story come alive. They intimately know the politics, the groups, their agendas, and the people of the town they cover. Tony is one (of) these very few. He is a true, talented and analytical professional. Belmont will greatly miss his historical knowledge and journalistic insight."Wow. This, from a former Globe scribe, some of the nastiest human beings in the business who treated me like dirt when I was politically involved in Boston during the 1980s and 1990s. Amazing.
One of our other columnists, Tony Oberdorfer, also wrote kind things and thanked me for not ceding to pressure from some of the liberals in town to ban his column. As I always said to him and others, "I'm not in the censorship business, I'm in the freedom business."
Good journalism is about freedom, and not in the political sense but in the personal liberty sense. Everyone should learn to embrace what others feel and think so that you can learn more about the people around you. You also learn more about yourself. And the more information you take in, the more educated your own decisions and opinions are. And yes, everyone should listen to everyone else too! But we don't censor people; we don't tell them to shut up and go away; we don't tell them to move if they can't afford whatever thing you want. That defeats the entire purpose of being in the communication and information business.
For all the talk about our business "dying" one has to wonder. Not only with the new gig but the response from the old gig, people really do care about what they absorb and what they read. They want to know what is going on around them. And we - both journalists and the corporations that we work for - have a responsibility to deliver it to them in a healthy, responsible, and meaningful way. We shouldn't be cheating them or punishing them with financial tricks or some of the crap we have seen on Wall Street or in board rooms in the past decade or so. This is journalism, it's information, it's important, more important than spreadsheets, percentages, etc.
So your supposedly superhero writer moves onto a new gig with AOL's Patch. I'm very excited about it. I encourage you to join me in following the site, checking out all the political news we'll be offering there, being a primary state and all. More about that and the future of Politizine.com later.