Ink-stained wretches know what the headline of this column signifies.
Back in the old days of putting all the print (stories, headlines, photo captions, and words in ads) with lead type, a newspaper reporter would type “-30-” at the end of a story, to indicate the end of a story to the typesetter.
That seems like an appropriate headline to remember the life of Dick Brockman, the owner of The Platteville Journal for 31 years, who died Monday. The warped sense of humor of those of us in this line of work requires me to point out that instead of reporting the news, Dick was the news this week.
Most newspaper readers don’t know how much work goes into a newspaper. When your title is “publisher,” you’re ultimately responsible for everything that goes into the newspaper — editorial, advertising, and, by the way, getting it printed and distributed to subscribers and retail sales outlets — even if other people have the titles that go with those newspaper functions. (And unlike most other lines of work, in this business all your mistakes reveal themselves in public.) When you get one newspaper done, it’s time for another — due out a few days later, when Dick started the second weekly edition of The Journal.
All this was when he was also running two businesses, including Mastercraft Press. Business owners know that when you own a business, there are some things you simply cannot delegate to someone else. To paraphrase the old saw, owning a business is like a bacon and egg breakfast — the chicken (employees) contributes, but the pig (the owner) is committed.
The hours in this line of work are the usual office hours plus whenever events take place — government meetings, sporting events, other community events — which means nights and weekends. Being a small-town newspaper editor is a job you never really stop doing as long as you have the job — that is, if you’re doing the job the right way. Your workplace is wherever you are within your newspaper’s circulation area, whenever you’re there. (Dick claimed to have taken, between 1967 and 2001, one weekday of vacation.)
Dick Brockman spent most of his life at this newspaper, beginning with stuffing papers when he was 5. Dick sold The Journal to Morris Newspapers Corporation of Wisconsin 51 years later. Between Harold and Dick, a Brockman owned this newspaper for 70 of its 114 years of existence. In that time, technology changed more than I can describe in this space.
Our paths crossed a few times in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I worked at the Grant County Herald Independent and then the Tri-County Press. Almost a quarter-century later, I have to say that one of the more enjoyable hours I’ve had in quite a while was picking Dick’s brain and memories of his five decades with The Journal. And in that time I’ve grown to appreciate the “old guys,” including the first person who hired me, who died (the same day as his wife) in November. The other family newspaper owners — in Grant County, the Goldsmiths in Boscobel, the Roethes in Fennimore, and the Goldthorpes in Cuba City, to name three — got out of the business, probably because the would-be next generation saw how much work their parents put into the newspaper and the business and chose a more normal line of work.
I have to believe that in the great newspaper office in the sky (where everything fits perfectly in the newspaper and no one ever comments negatively about what’s in, or not in, the newspaper) Dick was amused to view his successor several times removed mentally reconfigure this week’s front page four times Monday morning. (Similar to last week’s Journal, which wasn’t going to have front-page coverage of the Boston Marathon until events dictated otherwise.)
Dick also realized that The Journal was bigger than he was. He wrote in his last Gospel According to Eddie Tor column that he sold The Journal to owners with “the resources to move the Journal forward. They will do a good job. I wouldn’t leave the Journal in their hands if I did not think that was the case.” He must have thought that indeed was the case a decade later when he took out a thank-you ad in our Jan. 9 paper noting, “It is clear that when I sold the Journal it remained in good hands with past and present editors.” The present editor was indeed honored to read that.
The Journal has two employees who started working for Dick, in, shall we say, a year beginning with the number 19. That same ad thanked “all of those fellow Journal employees over the years who made me look good … for allowing me to retain the traditions started by my parents in 1933.”
Dick also made contributions to Platteville, financial and otherwise, that very few people knew about, because while he gave publicity to others, he rarely got any for himself. (Even in his own newspaper — you see my name all over the place here, but in Dick’s Journal his name was usually only in the staff box.) In the past year we’ve done stories about Dairy Days, the Historic Encampment and Thursday’s Child. He was involved with all of them, as well as the Avalon Theatre restoration, the City Park gazebo, the Chicago Bears training camp (where he was once kissed by Mike Ditka), and the halcyon days of UW–Platteville men’s basketball under coach Bo Ryan.
I’m pleased that Dick was able to get the recognition he deserved, as The Platteville Journal Citizen of the Year (which you can read at www.swnews4u.com/archives/9771), while he was still around to appreciate it. I’m also pleased he got a chance to enjoy the post-newspaper life with his wife, Kathy. For one year anyway, until he bought the Linn News–Letter in Central City, Iowa.
Dick also got a pony named for him by one of Kathy’s Iowa–Grant students, who put on a benefit for Dick and Kathy earlier this year. Not many people get that kind of tribute.