A journalist to be proud of

Saturday December 1, 2012

Ernest Hemingway, who first made a name for himself as a journalist, once said: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." This utterance came back to mind when Banner editor Jim Therrien rendered his public farewell after six very successful years at the helm.

My first meeting with Jim, a virtual one, was in the fall of 2006. About a month after he took over the chief job from the inimitable Noah Hoffenberg, Jim e-mailed me with words to this effect:

"I don't know you, and I just got here, but there are a lot of folks out there mad that your column was dropped. How about we move it from arts to the op-ed page and send me one and we'll restart it monthly?"

By the end of the year, "From The Stacks" was back in a weekly slot and hasn't missed one since - a continuous run of more than 300 columns.

In many ways, I owe much of my journalistic career to Jim. Anyone in the business knows it's hard enough to land in a newsroom, what with the tight economy and lesser job turnovers. Yet these last few years, with industry belt-tightening at an all-time high, freelancers have had so many things going against them that it's hard enough to get one gig, let alone more. But six years ago, Jim' decision to put my byline back on the pages demonstrated to other media outlets I had something to offer. That Jim began sending my work forward for journalism association award consideration - landing three in the past four years - was no small gesture of his confidence and trust.

Any journalist will concede you can't ask for more from your editor. Today, I work varied assignments across New England -- some as a result of Jim's direct referrals -- and occasionally land a national-level gig.

But ultimately, my modest endeavors will inexorably be tied to Jim's faith in me. Whatever our disagreements over minutiae, the reason Jim is one of the best newspaper pros in New England is not only because he led his newsroom to dozens of awards and accolades. It's also because the man can write, loves to write, and respects those around him who have that same passion.

Unfortunately, many editors, especially those at small dailies such as the Banner, will tell you that once a gatekeeper assumes the top spot, the time available to pen a 650-750 word column -- aside from unsigned editorials which often run shorter -- is limited. Editors give up writing to wear many other hats, not least of which are those of parent, referee, arbiter, psychologist, coach, and dictator.

Jim admitted to not being much of the latter, as he put it, erring on the side of leniency. But what is great about his new gig at the Berkshire (Mass.) Eagle is that he'll have come full circle to do what he loves best - to write. What is not as good for Vermont journalism is losing one of its finest practitioners and ambassadors. As hard boiled as he'd like everyone to think he is, Jim is a true gentleman and a kind soul.

And unlike many of his ideologically driven contemporaries, he gave everyone - right, left, center - a voice in the Banner, even those with whom he vehemently disagreed. While criticism of the profession swirls around objectivity, transparency and accuracy, Jim embraced its highest calling: Fairness.

Jim only had one pet peeve. He never wanted to be mentioned by name in a column. So now that he's gone, I get to gush it on this page, finally.

A few years ago, I was digging through a shoebox and came across a literary journal from the 1990s. In it was a short story by James Therrien, described in his bio as a reporter for the North Adams (Mass.) Transcript, who also was working on a novel with a 1960s theme.

If Jim's novel is somewhere gathering dust in a closet, I'm hoping he digs it up, brushes it off, and gets back to it. That short story was beautifully composed; I suspect, as Hemingway might have, that Jim bled words onto those pages, in much the way his farewell let the guard down, revealing a true writer within.

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist. You may e-mail him at tchalkias@aol.com.


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