"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, July 31, 2015

A tale of two (journalistic) icebergs

I have done a lot of writing since 2010 but have done no interviewing. Thus there's a void. The best interviews aren't real formal. They might include a little laughter. Early Saturday morning, Jerry Witt might tell me about a key block thrown by a Tiger on a key play in a scoring drive. The level of detail probably got to be too much. It certainly went beyond what we see in the Morris newspaper today.
I did many non-sports interviews that were lively and enjoyable. At my best I am really quite good, I assure you. My career did run into two icebergs. They are quite easy to explain.
Iceberg No. 1
Beginning in the mid-1980s, I was buried under photographic darkroom work. The photography department exploded. When I started in 1979, the newspaper owned just one camera, outdated. You determined the shutter speed/aperture settings through the "needle in the notch" system.
That Pentax camera was very difficult to focus. The flash unit had been put away as if there was no intention to use it. I'm sure the problem was that the flash occasionally required a set of AA batteries from the drugstore. The bill would go through the general manager's office (and be under that scowling eye).
Those were also the days - how quaint - when the business manager would query all over the place: "did you call (Hooterville)?" She'd accost us one after another: "did you call (Hooterville?)" I once dialed a dead-end phone number for an outfit called Northstate Advisers in connection with a political story, and was probably in conversation with them for 20 seconds. I got the usual hostile query. We were supposed to write down all our long-distance calls but it was easy to forget sometimes.
I really take no pleasure in being negative - seriously - but St. Cloud State hadn't prepared me at all to run, or even to use, really, a photographic darkroom. I had been taught outdated techniques. I had never even touched a bulk film loader.
When I started at the Sun Tribune, the bulk film loader had been put away and film was being ordered in those little plastic containers from Doug Garberick. I would later be told: "You wouldn't order it that way if you were the owner."
I obtained my own bulk film loader because I wasn't aware the paper had one. Ron Lindquist reacted with consternation. "Oh Brian!" he said, and he went to get the paper's property. Remember, it was not being used. Why wasn't it being used? Lindquist was the general manager and maybe he should have had an explanation ready. I dabbled with the thing and discovered a problem. I contacted Garberick who was familiar with the situation and he said the paper's loader "left a streak on the film." OK, well get a new one, then.
I tried using my own loader of the Watson brand, considered name brand. Let me insert here that any photography hobbyist or professional of those days could have myriad problems. They'd get into conversations in which all they did was talk about their problems. Maybe that was kind of a badge of honor, discussing all your complicated problems. Again, how quaint. There appear to be no technical hurdles in taking pictures today. It's like comparing pulleys to hydraulics.
I found with my Watson bulk film loader that the film would get fogged in places. I was trying to follow all the instructions. I decided I couldn't accept the risk of trying to use a bulk loader. Getting film in those little plastic containers at least ensured no risk in handling the film. So that's the route I took for a very long time.
I visited a friend who ran the newspaper in Madison MN. He had been using a Watson bulk film loader. I asked him why he took two photos of every car for his car ads. Turned out, he had problems with his film getting fogged in places. He showed me some negatives. But he had only a fraction of car photos each week, compared to what I dealt with in Morris with our several well-established dealers of that time. I told Rick, "I might have a hundred car pictures to take on Thursday morning alone." So, I just couldn't risk having problems with my film.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the photo department of the Morris paper went berserk with tons of inefficiency. Point and shoot cameras came into being. There were weeks when having four of them wasn't enough. If I had a nickel for every roll of film I developed with only three of four shots taken on it. . .
In many weeks we had to crack open a new roll of film for the two or three "tail ender" photos at Atlantic Auto Sales (when it was at its original location, actually on Atlantic Avenue). Many weeks I'd go over to Atlantic Auto Sales, specify the photos I needed to take, and I'd be told the cars "are coming on the transport." Of course that would be too late. So we'd have to scrub those, substitute or whatever.
Today I think the car dealers take their own photos and maybe even design their own ads.
Photography was a complicated specialty toward the end of the 20th Century. Today it's 180 degrees the opposite. Thus it's painful to remember the old way. For posterity I'm sharing some recollections here.
Iceberg No. 2
Public school teachers unions were feeling their oats through much of the 1970s and into the '80s. They could really throw their weight around. We heard about teacher strikes or looming teacher strikes in many communities. Such conflict was very hard on the small communities, as I'm sure you can imagine.
Morris had a very assertive and political nucleus of teachers. I soaked in some of their conversation sometimes. I can give first-hand accounts of how teachers "circled the wagons" vs. their real or imagined adversaries all the time. Of course, the adversaries didn't set out to make life difficult for teachers, they simply had ideas about education that sometimes went out of bounds from the parochial sphere of the teachers.
Morris extracurricular activities reached a state in the mid to late 1980s where something had to be done. Because I saw this and might acknowledge it in conversations around town, I became a pariah in the eyes of many within that teachers' circle. The lid finally came off of that matter, as the best-laid plans of school employees to tamp it down finally failed. The status quo in Morris school life could not continue.
The flaccid state of extracurricular reflected an overall philosophy that did not promote tradition. The deconstructionist attitudes of academia - attitudes that permeated so greatly through the 1970s - were hanging in there.
Times were going to change, everywhere. In most places they changed more quietly than in Morris. Today I get the impression that the school's basic values and aims are in line with what the public wants. Conflicts are kept at the margin. I remember the days when many teachers were known to say highly disparaging things about Supt. Fred Switzer - no inhibitions - around town. Today the system would tamp down or discourage such inclinations.
By the end of the 1980s, I was carrying significant baggage as I sought to continue my newspaper career. I had been in cahoots with the likes of Merlin Beyer and Erv Krosch. "In cahoots?" I simply felt the protest of these people had merit and we ought to all consider these protests in an objective or unfettered way. Instead we got business boycotts.
I lost credibility with a lot of people. It put me on the defensive. To an extent I lost confidence.
The newspaper hired an editor who was clearly an ally of the teachers. This is an editor who made about the biggest mistake you can imagine in newspaper work. She took a rumor off the street from a known eccentric (initials M.D.) and put it on the front page. Not only did the newspaper have to run a correction, it had to run a front page "correction and apology." What would have happened to me if I had done that? Here's where politics come in, politics being defined as being treated for who you are, not for what you do.
Toward the end of that editor's tenure, she couldn't automatically get her editorials published. One got nixed in which she castigated the Prairie Pioneer Days committee for choosing Ronald McDonald as parade grand marshal. My, the committee had chosen a "corporate advertising symbol" as grand marshal! Those were the words used, but let's consider that Ronald would be driving a carriage in which kids were seated who had been at the Ronald McDonald House. This detail was omitted. Oh, those corporate "meanies."
The editor was a toady for the public school teachers union which at that time had a pernicious reach. These memories are not comfortable for me to share. I'll get back to baseball in my next post.
Addendum: Remember that union-oriented people, once they determine certain people who are contrary to their aims, will pillory those people and try to crush them, and in my case I'd be judged an incompetent writer incapable of writing a sentence. It is a hard hole to dig out of. Sometimes I feel I'm still trying to dig out of it. It was the community's loss that I got derailed by the two "icebergs." I had so much to offer. I'd actually like to get along with everyone.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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