My favorite editor’s move was made by Steve Miller. But then, he coached wrestling back in his teaching days, so moves are part of his nature.
I had always suspected as much but didn’t find out for sure until one highly stressed afternoon in the Rapid City Journal newsroom. I said something to Steve I shouldn’t have said and he objected, vigorously.
I hadn’t even finished a pretty good line of sass when Steve, then the Journal’s managing editor, came at me with clenched fists at his sides and backed me up— nose to nose — against a rack of staff mailboxes in the coatroom between the newsroom and the bathrooms.
For an instant, I was pretty certain that I was going to end up in a head lock or a chicken wing or a goose foot (OK, I made that last one up, but I think the first two are actual wrestling moves) before being thrown around the newsroom for a while and pinned.
Steve never said a word, by the way, and didn’t need to. His move said it all.
So I shut up. And he backed off. And we went back to work, for a couple of reasons: We liked and respected each other and the deadlines of a daily newspaper have a way of focusing even the most combustible of personalities on the task at hand.
Which is, of course, putting out a paper, full of news.
It’s rewarding work, but also stressful and prone to eruptions. Some of the more notable eruptions over the years at the Journal and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader have had my name on them.
Since I began my reporting career more than 40 years ago, I’ve blurted a number of things I shouldn’t have blurted to a number of editors, most of whom probably didn’t deserve them.
Steve Miller was one who didn’t, and was willing to show it. Other editors were willing as well.
Take Dick Thien, a blustery, red-faced, cigar-puffing fire hydrant of an editor at the Argus back in the late ‘70s and into the ‘80s. Thien was a fine newsman with his own volatilities. So I was especially unwise to test them, as I did once with what I considered to be a fairly modest rebuke and he considered to be ample reason to grab my arm and lead me into his office.
“If you’re confused about who the boss is here, I can make it real clear real fast,” he said in a half whisper, half growl.
Thien believed in brevity. And I got the point.
Years later at the Argus, Managing Editor Maricarrol Kueter booted me — with words, although she seemed capable of other options — out of the newsroom one day as I was midway through a decent harangue about something I can’t recall.
“Get out of here and cool off,” she said. “I don’t want to see your face for two hours.”
So I had a relaxing lunch and thought about things. Then I went back to work. Maricarrol gave me a long, instructive look but never mentioned the blow-up. She had more pressing priorities.
Then there was the Beck episode. Argus Executive Editor Randell Beck was outlining plans for some news initiative when I opened a line of somewhat-cranky criticism.
Eventually Beck blew up and ordered me to his office, where he allowed himself a furious fulmination of such volume and creativity that even I, the target, had to be impressed.
“Do you want a towel or anything?” I asked when he was finished.
“Shut up. And don’t ever do that to me again,” he said. “Now get back to work.
We had a newspaper to put out, after all.