editor’s notes

When I was editor of Illinois Times (2003-2008), I wrote a short editor’s note each week, usually highlighting something new in that edition. The notes were not posted online or archived – and I’ve recycled almost all of my copies of the newspaper. But I recently found some photocopies, and here are a few examples.

March 11-17, 2004 – In October, I interviewed former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon, who had just completed another book. He stuck to familiar theme: Too many politicians, he said, take the easy way out, pandering to voters. They play to voters’ fears, not their hopes. Around the same time I was in Carbondale, Senate candidates met in Springfield to debate. Among them was Barack Obama, a state legislator from Chicago. Unlike other major candidates from both parties, Obama had been an early critic of the Iraq war, calling it “dumb” and “politically-driven.” Obama, according to the State Journal-Register, said, “You need a U.S. senator who’s not going to be thinking, ‘How’s this going to play?’ but one who leads.” I have to think Paul Simon would have agreed.

April 1-7, 2004 – When animal-rights activists showed up in Springfield with a guy dressed as a dog, we weren’t taking notes. When an Alaska wilderness group came to the Capitol with a protester dressed in a polar bear costume, we were missing in action. And when PETA arrived with its “naked”-woman-painted-in-tiger-stripes, we were somewhere else. It’s not that we have a problem with people who like to dress up – just check out our Feb. 12 cover. Rather, we have to draw a line somewhere. Way we see it, if your story requires you to dress up as a bunny or a moose or a squirrel to get publicity, don’t call us. And, more importantly, if you promise to show up naked, don’t wear panties and pasties. That’s just wrong.

June 24-30, 2004 – In one episode of “The Simpsons,” soon to be the longest-running sitcom in TV history, little Lisa writes an essay that discloses the truth about the revered founder of the imaginary town of Springfield. Instead of a hero who once killed a bear with his bare hands, Jebediah Springfield was a pirate scoundrel. And the bear, Lisa discovers, probably killed Jebediah. In this week’s cover story, David Brady and William Furry reveal fascinating information about a real-life Jebediah. A search of long-forgotten records shows Robert Pulliam, believed to be the first white settler in what became Sangamon County, was a veritable scoundrel. Brady and Furry’s story provides an object lesson in how truth has a way of emerging whenever it’s pursued with determination.

Aug. 4-10, 2005 – The S.S. AFL-CIO was listing, and the crew couldn’t decide whether to bail with plastic or metal buckets. AS the captain stood wringing his hands, some enterprising and energetic rats built a raft and sailed off in stormy seas. And so it went in Chicago last week, as the once-mighty labor federation, bleeding membership for more than a generation, said goodbye to several major unions. Disunity is nothing new for labor, and this split doesn’t necessarily presage its end or its resurgence. But the future will be brighter if unions learn a thing or two from Wal-Mart: If capital won’t respect or recognize national boundaries, neither should labor. The struggle for workers’ rights must be international – the future of American labor depends on it.

Sept. 1-7, 2005 – We lived near a big city park when my sons were little, which meant that we’d hear the monkeys at the zoo, get regular visits from raccoons, and have a neat place to go to when we felt like exploring. My favorite time was fall; we’d walk to the park and try to collect as many different nuts, fruits and leaves as possible. We’d return with our pockets stuffed with acorns, persimmons, hickory nuts, and odd-shaped rocks, and I’d pretend we had discovered treasure. Truth is, we did. The boys are grown now, but every now and then, I ask them whether they want to go hunt for acorns. It makes them smile.

Sept. 11-21, 2005 – Ever notice the guy who bowls the most strikes and spares at your local alley? If it’s the same dude I’m thinking of, he carries 50 pounds of extra baggage around his midsection, drinks one too many brewskis, and still hasn’t shaken his pack-a-day habit. No Lance Armstrong he – think more along the lines of Ralph Kramden or Fred Flintstone, without an Alice or a Wilma. Our Joe Bowler may not win any prizes as a worker, thinker, citizen, or companion, but he’s found one thing at which he’s king – and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’re all imperfect, fragile souls, with only a few short years to leave our mark and collect our trophies. What are you best at? And what are you waiting for?

Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2005 – The principal gave me permission to start a newspaper after I was buried in a grade-school election for student council in 1971. So began a career of helping tell other people’s stories. In that time, I’ve met and interviewed many folks who, let’s say, will never provide another quote or send a note. So many have passed on that I started jotting down names a few years ago, almost in the same way others catalog the places they’ve visited or things they’ve collected. My list, my “book of the dead,” keeps growing. Today, when I read the names – some belonging to people I saw almost every day for years – I realize how little I really knew about them. It just goes to show: If you don’t really listen, there’s not much to remember.

Nov. 24-30, 2005 – Woke up this morning, stumbled into the bathroom, exhaled and fogged up the mirror. I’m still alive – a big reason to be thankful. Looked outside, and everything was the way it was supposed to be. Now we’re cooking. Got in my car (hey, I have a car!), drove to work (hey, I have a job!), said hello to people who also said hello to me (people know who I am!). This is going to be a wonderful day. Happy Thanksgiving!

Dec. 22-28, 2005 – After our twin sons were born, my wife and I were so broke that we had to move in with her parents. So it wasn’t until Christmas of 1985, when the boys were 2, we were able to celebrate the holiday in our own place. On Christmas Eve, we tucked them in and told ’em there’d be a big surprise in the morning, and I got busy assembling their tricycles. The boys were out like lights, but the big kids in the house – my wife and I – were still wide-awake and excited. We decided, then and there, that Santa had already arrived, and we woke the boys. The little zombies spent the late hours of Christmas Eve riding their tricycles, banging into furniture, walls and each other. This holiday season, I recommend that you do the same – make some noise. Joyfully, if possible.

Feb. 16-22, 2006 – Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin – the subject of last week’s Illinois Times cover story – was the featured speaker Sunday at the Abraham Lincoln Association’s annual banquet. She spoke of Lincoln’s magnanimity and his good relations with the press, among other subjects. Richard Norton Smith, director of the presidential museum and also the subject of a news story last week, introduced Goodwin. In his off-the-cuff comments, he volunteered that there are two things he won’t miss when he leaves Springfield next month: “First, all of those pungent, aromatic hog vans that rumble down Jefferson Street from time to time – and then their journalistic equivalent, the Illinois Times. Lately it’s getting harder to tell the difference between them.” The line drew some laughs and some groans. But count me among the confused: If Mr. Smith is suggesting that this newspaper is responsible for getting the swine out of town, he’s giving us too much credit.