Way back when


When musing on work of The River Reporter, I always come back to the amazing people who so tirelessly and graciously contributed. Each contributes their own perspective and gifts. This week, I reach back into the 25th anniversary edition to reprint the reflections of Andrea Henley-Heyn and Ed Wesely.  

Lessons learned at TRR


It's one of those bright, snowy days. The sunlight slants. The day will be short. The solstice is coming. A great time for reflection and reflect I do, pulling out an old, yellowed file labeled "Newspaper--Printed Stories."

I began writing for The River Reporter in 1981 and left a decade later. The clipping I pull out is my piece of writing, a review. It begins, "'Seascape', by Edward Albee, was presented by the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance on August 28 at Harmonie Hall in Callicoon." My first lead sentence! Dull, boring, embarrassing! I had a lot to learn. And I learned a lot in ten years at The River Reporter.

Let's start with the little stuff. I learned to type. "You can't do this work if you don't type it the first time," Glenn Pontier told me. He was the editor at that time, and during the whole of my tenure with the paper. "Don't worry about it. Just keep typing. You'll get better," he said. And I did.

I learned about writing. Writing is really about thinking. I figured out what I thought by writing it down, reading it, disagreeing with myself, disagreeing with my editor and changing it. Glenn invoked Hemingway and the Kansas City Star: "Use short words. Use short sentences. Keep it short." He said, "Choose someone to write to. Make sure whatever you write has a connection to the river valley. No one can be truly objective but you must be fair and you must know your biases." He had a gentle touch with my words and an endless supply of alternative ways to say something. He taught me that nothing I wrote was so important that it couldn't be improved.

I learned to value the need for vision and the necessity of the practical. Glenn had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish with The River Reporter. He loved the word "feisty," especially when applied to the paper. He understood that the paper had to satisfy both the need for the mundane communications among people (the board meetings, the community events) but not avoid the bigger controversies (land use, corruption, broad political concerns). He was relentless in pursuing this vision.

But much of what needs to be done is not about sweeping ideas. It's about just plain sweeping, those myriad practical and equally important tasks needed to put out the paper. And Laurie Stuart, the general manager of the paper, could, would and did learn how to do anything that was necessary: typesetting (absolutely no one can type faster), graphic arts, advertising, management, billing. And when she learned how to do it, she became the best at it. Her skills held a very disparate, creative and cantankerous group of people together. She was, and still is, a renaissance woman, a fabulous blend of the practical and the artistic.

I learned about standing up for what I believe. Those of you who know me know that I generally say what I think. But Laurie and Glenn took stands on the most controversial issues facing those of us who live here, and then broadcast them to a very large audience. Sometimes I agreed with them. Sometimes I didn't. But there were very real consequences for them and they took the stands anyway. By example and by design, they offered a forum for all of us to say what we think, to argue about important ideas. They raised the level of conversation but at the same time kept the conversation civilized.

I learned about the sweep of history. I might have learned this anyway, since age has an unerring way of presenting the irrefutable passage of time.But working on a newspaper, a great newspaper, gave me a unique perspective. Newspapers are the first cut of history. The River Reporter continues to be a valuable voice of the river valley community. And I was very lucky to be a part of it.

Getting TRR done... in the bathroom


After I’d begun part-time work at TRR in the summer of 1983, the editor once kidded that given his IBM typesetter and an electric outlet, he could produce a newspaper anywhere, under any conditions—words that would soon haunt him.

For during the winter of 1983-84, before it secured its home on Main Street, TRR’s office was displaced from comfortable quarters in the old Arlington Hotel and squeezed into a first floor bathroom.

TRR was lucky the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance (DVAA), which owned the Hotel and had shared its space there, was willing, during renovations, to donate its only intact room as a stopgap. And lucky that the old bathroom, however cramped, had electricity.

Once we’d settled in, I found that scrap planks, laid crosswise on the bathtub, made a passable “desk” that could support a dictionary, a staple puller, a couple of writing tablets and my elbows. Copy was typed on the IBM machine, assembled on press day and pasted onto flats in an unheated upstairs room.

Happily for the crew upstairs, production work required just a couple of folding tables and a hot air blower that, once it got going, allowed them to remove their gloves.

It was lucky, too, that these were pre-computer days at TRR. The stuff I wrote, and most of what I edited, was done in longhand. Economy ruled, as on a submarine. By the end of the winter, when I discovered that TRR had rented a two-room apartment across the street, it was like the end of hibernation.

But it was also a bittersweet moment. It had been a perverse kind of “fun” to produce a newspaper in those cramped quarters, and to see it hit the newsstands without missing a beat. I think, too, that it raised our sights, and led to zany improvisations that made TRR a more flexible newspaper.


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