Saturday, December 6, 2008


Requiem

It's been a bad week to be overseas. First came the grim e-mail news that an old friend and fellow reporter Tom Fogarty,with whom I'd had my first fulltime news job at a Lincoln, Nebraska paper when the Pony Express was still operating, had died three weeks after he'd been diagnosed with cancer.

Heartbroken in Beijing doesn't begin to describe how I felt. Tom was one of the most honest people I've ever known and one of the funniest. As was noted so aptly in his Lincoln Journal-Star obit, "Fogarty told stories for a living. He told them when he wasn’t working, too, and very well, because he couldn’t help himself."
He was the original good guy; someone his friends and family felt would always be there and thoughts of seeing again in person when I return to the States were always there.

Grieving via email doesn't really cut it and as I sniffled, blew my nose and blubbered as quietly as I could at my desk as Chinese coworkers tried to pretend that nothing was wrong, I briefly considered hopping a plane back to the States for his memorial service in DC (he'd last worked at USA Today) or funeral in his hometown of Omaha. Friends here didn't know him, of course, and grieving alone made it all the lonelier as I read the several hundred tributes and memories others had posted on a website for him.

"Something is maybe wrong?" one reporter finally asked softly. "Maybe your health is not so good?" She meant well, but I mumbled something about bad news and kept my head down and the tissues coming. Then came an e-mail of what appears to be another death. The Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where I worked for about 14 years, is on the auction block with all signs that it will probably be shut down after it's sold.

It's no secret to all who knew me that my exit from there was not exactly amicable, but as I shuttled through a RMN online slide show of the staff getting the bad news I saw a few familiar faces and all looked like they'd been collectively kicked in the stomach. Though I was no fan of the paper's top management, that had nothing to do with the talents and just plain good souls who continued to work there. It's for them and the dying craft of American print journalism that I felt so sad.

"Hey, no news jobs in Denver? Got some openings here in China," I wanted to say. "Working for commie bureaucrats is not very different than Scripps Howard..." But what sane person would pack up to go halfway across the planet to a place where they don't speak or read the language to find work?

Photo: Lincoln Journal reporters Thomas A Fogarty (right) and Mitchel Benson smirk at the transparently underhanded shenanagans of the Nebraska State Legislature in Lincoln circa 1980.

4 comments:

Chuck said...

Justin, Of course I am biased, but this is your best post yet. A tribute to an outstanding journalist and even a better person. If you could share the website location with me, I would love to go read more about Tom from his friends.

Too many great memories to share from the good old days - and they truly were the good old days.

I think back to those days as a journalist and while I don't necessarily miss the job or the deadlines, I miss the people, I miss the comradarie. I even miss eccentricity of Joe R . . . but not as much. In the past few years I had a few dealings with Tom at USA Today and it was nice to know the big time didn't change him one bit. He was always Tom.

I also appreciated your take on the RMN. People told us 25 years ago that newspapers were dying. I didn't believe them. I didn't want to believe them and I never thought they would. Today, I seem to see the grim reaper every day clutching a newspaper in one hand.

My best to you, my friend. Take care of yourself. Keep telling your stories. They will help keep Tom's spirit alive. Peace.

Chuck

pdm said...

Sorry to hear about the death of a great friend, Justin. I can't imagine dealing with that kind of thing from such a distance.
Electronic communication is cold comfort, but keep in touch, old buddy.

Be well.

Anonymous said...

Hello, writing from Tokyo - this post caught my eye. Are you a native Nebraskan? I am interested in tracking down any Nebraskans in China. Having written for the Daily Nebraskan for several years, your piece grabbed me.
Please drop a line at
bryanpeterson98@yahoo.com
or stop by
http://emptyhandswornshoes.blogspot.com

Stephen said...

Justin,

You may be sperated by an ocean and a the lower 48 - but you're not alone my friend. Your words were a fitting tribute, and the carepages helped us all get by.

I will be a poor substitute, but when you're state side we can grab a beer and re-live the memories.

It's weird seeing others whom I don't know, such as Chuck - leave messages about dad on your blog. He touched so many in a genuine manner. Hard to believe he's gone. I'll scan my eulogy for you, so you can read what I said. Additionally the services both DC and Omaha were filmed and so we've got those on DVD.

Talk soon.

Stephen