Last month I wrote a column about putting out a one-time-only special edition when I worked at the Naples Daily News in 1986.
The piece quoted the old newspaper chestnut, “Extra, extra. Read all about it.”
The more I thought about it, a follow-up column would trumpet “Extra, extra. Learn all about it.” That’s right. Learn. Let me explain.
One of my favorite questions for interviews with candidates, politicians and other public figures used to be “What have you learned?” about the community. It compelled them to think.
I borrowed that from a U.S. Supreme Court associate justice, Harry Blackmun, who came to Naples for a Forum Club speech at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club. His topic was “What I have learned.” It fascinated me, coming from such an accomplished scholar and student of the law.
While I was working in local daily journalism from 1979 to 2014, I recorded all kinds of large and small epiphanies. I learned:
- People are mightily impressed, even astonished, when you simply do what you tell them you are going to do – even something basic such as printing their letter to the editor or researching the answer to their question.
- Public figures are seldom as good or as bad as they first appear. Time after time a candidate would ace an interview, only to disappoint on the job. Or a politician would stumble and mumble, only to do quite well in office.
- To advise sometimes wary interview guests they have nothing to fear – as long as they do their homework and tell the truth. I avoided tricky or “pop quiz” questions. If something heavy were around the corner, I would let guests know in advance.
- Be careful about your body language. A former boss did me a favor by counseling how off-putting posture and facial expressions can be for people who are giving their time to answer your questions.
- I learned to run my operation – on the opinion pages and television — as if it were a public utility, which it was not. Working in the public interest won trust and built immeasurable good will.
- I was taught by a former publisher, Chris Doyle, to not be shy about borrowing the good work ideas and habits of others, short of plagiarism. As it turns out, I borrowed something from him– opening speaking engagements and public forums by leading the audience in a patriotic song. I saw him wow a crowd with “America, The Beautiful” and started copying it immediately. I still am proud to do it when I give a talk or host an event such as the Naples Area Board of Realtors’ annual Economic Summit. Fast-forward to today, please. Since retiring in 2014 I have kept on learning – mostly how to play. Namely golf, pickleball and cards. (Volunteering is in the mix too.)
- In that year through 2016 I learned the fundamental importance of money to any civic enterprise. I helped chair the effort to complete the languishing Freedom Memorial project at Freedom Park on Golden Gate Parkway. Originators assumed the memorial to past and present first responders was such a great idea that money would raise itself. It took mighty fundraising by then-Mayor John Sorey and a blue-ribbon volunteer committee to get the money and get it done. Now I have a new, deep appreciation for philanthropy, especially the Community Foundation of Collier County.
- I have learned about various topics new to me via freelance magazine writing, including butterflies, fishing, disc or Frisbee golf, horse hoof trimmers known as farriers, autism, exotic live edgewood and the tourism promotion.
- I also have learned how incredibly lucky I was to follow my wife’s lead and retire in 2014, just before the newspaper went through so many painful and downward changes — and the tone of civic discussion and what’s left of the opinion pages followed suit. No wonder opinion pages are a dying breed. Nobody listens to each other anymore.