A colleague’s goodbye note

My longtime colleague Bill Robinson (I was his editor about 20 years ago) was one of the 11 journalists who stepped forward to accept a buyout offer to leave the newspaper as a cost-cutting measure. Even though he had been looking at relocating anyway, I know it wasn’t an easy decision.

His — and their — last day was Thursday, July 3. After he had left for the day, Bill sent the following message to all the news and editorial employees at The State. While Bill is a little younger than I am (he was in high school during Watergate; I was in college and already working as a copy boy at The Commercial Appeal), the values he expresses are those that have inspired a generation of journalists in this country. It is in that spirit that I share Bill’s message:

Dear colleagues:
     Thank you for laughing at the silly story about my first two days as a reporter at old The Columbia Record 23 years ago. As Mark Lett knew, I wouldn’t pass on an opportunity to have a final word.
    However, after attending the past several Hampton-Gonzalez award events, I knew I would be unable to compete with the oratorical eloquence of Sammy Fretwell, Carol Ward, Allison Askins and Rick Brundrett.
    But I wanted to leave you with a final thought or two …
    Richard Milhous Nixon was the POTUS when I was in high school and as history books note, he had a little problem called Watergate.
    Actually, his problem was with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, or as my J-school law class professor used to call them, collectively: "Woodstein."
    They are the reason a lot of journalists of my generation entered the profession. Being a reporter, as Sammy noted in his acceptance speech, was an opportunity to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted" — and get paid for it.
    I remember vividly reading that whenever Nixon had to give a speech about Vietnam, he would order the White House theater to provide him a private showing of the film "Patton." Nixon apparently was enamored with the George C. Scott’s opening sequence speech to get him fired up.
    I say this for a reason. Over the years, when I felt like the job was getting me down, I would pop into my VCR a now well-worn tape of "All The Presidents’ Men." Not because I was emulating Nixon; I did it to remind me why I got into the business.
    It always provided me a pick-me-up.
    Over the next few days or weeks, as you contemplate the future of print journalism, I strongly recommend that you go rent a copy of All The Presidents’ Men.
    Newspapers have value in this country and you all are on the front line. I wish I knew a way to wake people up and remind them about the important work The Washington Post and New York Times did reinforcing democracy in the mid-1970s. But I don’t.
    The Fox News Channel or any of the other TV broadcasters are not going to do what you are capable of delivering. I will be watching from afar.
    Best wishes and thank you again for all the kind words of support and praise over the past several days.

Bill Robinson

I have my own copy of "All The President’s Men" on DVD. But that’s no compensation for the loss to this trade of a guy who knows what it means.

13 thoughts on “A colleague’s goodbye note

  1. Karen McLeod

    But Brad, you’ve pretty much said that with things going the way they are in the newspaper business, that you don’t have the people or the funds to do that sort of investigative reporting anymore. The internet may be useful for nat’l news, but who is going to take up the slack with local governmental misbehavior? It will be a case of who do you trust. I have no wish to base my information on who can shout the loudest. Newspapers need to survive in some form or another.

  2. Lee Muller

    Newspapers COULD do in depth reporting of local and state issues, but they CHOOSE fluff, rabble-rousing, and cheerleading of the status quo, which disgusts educated readers.

  3. Brad Warthen

    Actually, Karen, we never had the people or the funds in my department, even when we were flush. That’s a news function. But I know what you’re trying to say — you’re talking about the whole paper.
    Setting aside the fact that the newsroom is NOT my department, I will make the point that the newspaper is, as always, your one significant source of local news. And it will remain so, since there is no sign that any other sort of entity will ever have an interest in providing that resource.
    The newspaper is smaller, and contains less of everything. But it still contains more local news, including “investigative” reports (a fuzzy term, but again, I know what you mean) than you going to get elsewhere.
    There will always — for the foreseeable future, anyway — be a local newspaper, and for a reason even Lee would appreciate: There is still a market for one. It might be different, but it will be here.

  4. Lee Muller

    There are quite a few local newspapers filling the void left by The State:
    Star Reporter
    Free Times
    Lake Murray News
    lots of blogs and Internet newsletters.

  5. zzazzeefrazzee

    Ah, the “Lake Murray News”, is such a bastion of investigative reporting!

  6. Lee Muller

    What investigative reporting of wasteful spending did I miss in The State?
    * Vista taxes misdirected?
    * Street repair funds misdirected?
    * Riverwalk no-bid contracts?
    * Innovista boondoggles?
    * College tuition rising 3 times faster than family incomes?
    * Thousands of faculty will retire as millionaires?

  7. bud

    Lee has a good point here. Where is the critical analysis of the Township Auditorium refurbishing? Who made that awful decision. Surely someone can see the obvious waste of taxpayers money on that boondoogle. In fact the Star Reporter and the Free Times have, on occassion, done some fine investigative reporting on a shoestring budget. The arrogance of the State Newspaper to claim they are the only game in town. I find that laughable.

  8. bud

    I will make the point that the newspaper is, as always, your one significant source of local news.
    How about TV? They seem to do faaaaaar more investigative reporting than the State ever has. Typically they do a much better and more timely job of informing the public. With 3-1/2 stations doing the job it certainly makes Brad’s point pretty ridiculous.
    So what has the State focused on the last couple of days? The economic meltdown of North Columbia. Seems a bit late for that one. Eau Claire has been in an economic death sprial for the better part of the past 30 years. So why is this even remotely a “news” story?

  9. Lee Muller

    Just locate the Section 8 public housing and overlay the serious crime on a map. You’ll find the crime moved with the relocation of public housing, from downtown to the edge of town.

  10. Thom Berry

    Thanks for posting Robo’s note.
    I sent Bill an e-mail letting him know that he’ll be missed around here, even though I understand his desire to be closer to family.
    Although his beat never included the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control, Bill would catch the occasional story assignment that would lead to a call to my office in DHEC’s Media Relations. I always found Bill to be fair and dedicated to the principle of being sure he had the facts right.
    Reading through his words and your post about the Cosmic Ha-Ha’s, I reflected on people like Charlie Pope, Jeff Miller and so many others who worked in The Record’s and the State’s newsroom over the years I’ve been in Columbia. Yep, I’m dirt!
    Godspeed, Bill. We hate to lose the good ones.

  11. Gary Karr

    I’ll add to the estimable Mr. Berry’s comments by saying, “Hear, hear!” Or is that, “Here, here?” I don’t know. But regardless, Bill Robinson is and was a gentleman. I met him 20 years ago not long after I arrived in South Carolina. I always enjoyed talking with him and sometimes competing against him. I am sorry to see him leave The State.

  12. Gary Karr

    An addition — only seen three names, so who are the other eight?
    Thom’s comments take me back 20 years to a state government reporting crew that consisted of Cindi, Jeff, Charlie, Tim Flach (then of the Greenville News, now of The State), WIS’s Lou Fontana and Jerry Adams, Trip DuBard and Dave Reed of the AP, Sid Gaulden of the Post and Courier (now at the Department of Public Safety, right?) and a host of others I’ve temporarily forgotten. A lot of us were in our 20s then… it seems so recent sometimes. I’m not claiming greatness for any of us, especially me, but it was a time when there was certainly less clutter in the information world than there is now.

  13. Tom Neven

    Gee, and all this time I thought it was the journalist’s job just to report the facts as accurately and impartially as possible.
    Get over yourself already. This silly attitude is in fact large reason why a lot of you are losing your jobs. We ordinary folks are sick of it and stopped buying your paper a long time ago.

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