Reflections: ‘It’s been one hell of a ride!’

In journalism we are taught that any good writer should diligently embrace the Five W’s in the opening graph of their story: to wit…the Who, When, What, Where and Why.

Being the scourge of the journalism teacher, however, I sometimes vary that sacred rule and choose instead to wander down the literary path, giving those venerated guidelines the nose and instead, stumble along eking a new journey from inception to conclusion.

With thus said, here is the meat of this story: Son John and I are happy to announce that following months of soul searching, mental crunches and decision making, we have sold The Pioneer Group to a suitor who strongly embraces our belief in community journalism and involvement…Hearst Newspapers. The sale takes effect today and ends nearly 90 years of Batdorff involvement in Michigan Press’s Fourth Estate. Hearst currently owns two other Michigan properties: The Midland Daily News and the Huron Daily Tribune in Bad Axe.

It was not an easy decision to make, but it is time to pass the baton. It was important to us that whoever we chose to take over The Pioneer Group reins had values that mirrored those of our own.

We chose not to go with a publicly traded organization, but rather one in the private sector…one historically immersed in the beliefs and passions that traveled through years of Batdorff ownership.

As I sit and let my mind wander through the 55 years I’ve been here, raising three incredible children…Wendy, John and Suzi…I can’t help but feel a little bittersweet about the journey John and I will soon begin.

I will miss the smell of the newspaper and ink…as well as the rumbling sound of the press as another edition is made ready to hit the street.

Remembering back to the beginning, I still miss the kerchunk kerchunk kerchunk sound of Ivan Andrews and Chuck Turner as they played their melody on the keys of their Mergenthaler Linotypes as lines of lead type fell into place to make the heart of the newspaper…its editorial copy.

I remember the pride we had when our old Model E, Serial Q Goss Flatbed Press was sold…and replaced with a new V-15A Cottrell Press and how we felt as we became the third paper in the state to go offset, making hot lead obsolete. (Our sister publication in Manistee goaded us unmercifully on this…they were number two.)

I will miss the energy spike that rises with a blush through the newsroom and blooms into a full blown riot as writers and editors scramble to meet each daily deadline. Visions of Gale Cosgrove, Lillian Palmer, Jim Bruskotter, Judy Hale and a host of others still dance in my dreams. (No, Jim Crees and Michelle Graves…you have not yet reached that prestigious goal!)

I will miss the hue, cry and camaraderie of the advertising staff as they work together and attain goals thought beyond their horizon…and the incredible people who made it all happen. And Marilyn Barker, our Manistee publisher, who made sure all the gears were meshing properly on the west side…

I will miss our production, creative and business staffs..and the incredibly devoted members who pull together in such a complex working environment and do their chores while still maintaining their sanity.

And I will particularly miss the many friends and people that have come and gone from our organization and have obtained their final home above…Tony Walker, Pete Hector, Mike Swem, Skip Anderson, Charlie Hansen, Wilfred “Grab” Grabowski…and so many many others…all who have left their own incredible mark on my heart.

But I will not miss the friendships of a whole host of people in our communities that have become friends…from merchants to educators…from professionals to clerks…from industrialists to the workers who make it all happen…for those friendships will continue until my final day is called.

I remember the spontaneous pride of moving…twice in Big Rapids alone. To 502 North State Street and then back downtown, where we belonged, across from the Old Pioneer Store, where The Pioneer used to be…and where I began my education in management.

I remember the pride of starting the PDS telephone directory service…something most newspapers didn’t do…and the incredible joy of having my son John join the organization and working with him and John Norton to develop our printing facility.

I remember the enjoyment I had having lunch once a month with Ferris State President Vic Spathelf and Top Taggert at the Country House Restaurant. And I remember the turkey days of fall as Linten Store Manager Warren Parker and I tried to convince the downtown merchants that live turkeys would make a fantastic Thanksgiving promotion…and the scalping we nearly took afterwards.

I feel very fortunate. I’ve lived in two incredible communities: Big Rapids and Manistee. And I have a world of memories to fall back on and comfort me as I look for my next hurdle of life. I’m very thankful of that…and thankful to all that have done so much to keep these thoughts alive…these incredible wonderful memories…so very possible.

An old editor once told me that news should be covered like a mini skirt on a pretty woman…long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.

And with that, I wish you adieu. I know our decision will be the right move…both for The Pioneer Group as well as ourselves. The Hearst operation will continue on with passion and renewed energy. We feel very fortunate to have been an integral part of our communities growth and spirit. And we feel fortunate that, along that quest, to have made so many close friends and to have been blessed with such an incredibly talented and driven staff.

So, after 55 plus years and some 600 plus Reflections columns, this old warrior is finally going to take off his business cap and do something he tried to do twice before…retire. And spend more time with my supportive wife Susan and our extended family.

There are two quotes I’ve always enjoyed and want to use as I close this column.

I’ve always enjoyed the saying of satirist and journalist H.L. Mencken. This little ditty…tongue in cheek…was written, I believe, in 1925 during the Skopes Monkey Trial. I quote:

“The average newspaper, especially of the better sort, has the intelligence of a hillbilly evangelist, the courage of a rat, the fairness of a prohibition boob-jumper, the information of a high school janitor, the taste of a designer of celluloid Valentines and the honor of a police-station lawyer.”

I love it!

The second appeared on April 17, 1862…in the first issue of the Mecosta County Pioneer. And it was penned by its publisher/editor Charles Gay:

“A newspaper may be destroyed at night, it may light a cigar or it may curl a lady’s hair. Ah! Only think of that girls! An editor’s ideas completely, sweetly and exquisitely wreathed in your rich tresses, and—yes, nestled down with you in your midnight slumbers, to gently guard and peacefully keep watch over your dreams. Jerusalem! Who would not be an editor?”

So with those and a million other thoughts in mind…it’s time. It’s been one hell of a ride! And remember, I haven’t left…I’ve just changed hats.

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