A grumpy ‘old’ man

Published 12:03 am Saturday, March 20, 2010

Every good newspaper reporter eventually learns to approach things with some level of cynicism. Things are not always as they appear. People have their own agendas, which sometimes show them to be somewhat less altruistic than they would prefer their neighbors to think. Even (perhaps especially) historic figures are complicated mixtures of good and evil, and it’s therefore dangerous to make a hero out of any man.

Most journalists — including this one — learn these sad facts by hard personal experience. And we revel in the occasional exceptions to the rules. Meanwhile, though, we learn to approach our jobs in such a way that naiveté doesn’t trump credibility, trying not to lose our grasp in the process on the wonder that informs the best of our stories.

These things have been on my mind a lot lately as we settle into a new configuration within our newsroom. With the addition of the very-green-but-very-competent Leila Roche — just 22 and in her first paid, full-time newspaper gig — the average age of our actual news staff has dropped by about three years and three months, and what I’ll refer to as the “giddiness factor” seems to have increased by a factor of 10.

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Suddenly, at 45, I’m the old guy in the newsroom. Nobody understands my cultural references. They all seem to have a little more stamina to get through the long days than I can seem to dredge up. And everybody wonders why I’m always so cranky. (Actually, they say I’m always angry, but I’m pretty sure they don’t have the life experience to recognize the difference.)

Really, most of the time I’m not angry at anyone, and “cranky” isn’t the emotional state I normally intend to portray. I adopted an attitude early in life that has always seemed especially well suited to life in the newspaper business. I like to think of myself as the playful curmudgeon of the newsroom — a little bit grouchy, but loveable, nonetheless. I think it’s a persona that was burned into my consciousness from hours of seeing Ed Asner as Mr. Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore Show.

For the most part, I think it plays pretty well, though there’s a certain philosophical irony that folks on the news staff will appreciate in the comparison between Ed Asner and me. Still, though, it IS nice to see people at the beginning of discovering all the things I think I already know about my career and to see them full of the excitement and expectation that I remember from my early days as a reporter.

After a couple of decades in the business, I still love it, but the relationship with the job has settled into something comfortable and familiar. So it’s nice to be reminded occasionally of how fresh and new things were back in the beginning. But it also works once in a while to put on Mr. Grant’s grumpy-old-man sweater.

Which is the real me? Only my wife knows. And please don’t ask her.