THE NEWSPAPER HAS STABBED US IN THE BACK
This is a love story.
It’s about the man who used to sit behind me where I worked.
I was fresh out of the Army and was on the suburban desk, and he was almost 20 years out of the Army and on the sports desk. If either of us pushed our chairs back too far, we bumped into each other.
And most nights, long after everyone else in the newsroom had left, it was he and I, working away on various projects, putting together stuff for the next day’s paper.
Even then, Bob Matthews was a legend.
He was Rochester.
He was the Times-Union’s sports columnist and had been since shortly after he got back from Vietnam. As that paper died, and we were its last two columnists, we got rolled over into the Democrat and Chronicle, where he has been all these years since.
He said it was the worst day of his life.
They took away his dream job.
They took away his family, his brothers on the sports staff, and they took away his purpose. In a way, they took away his life. The only life he has ever wanted.
The gutless corporate bastards.
He was let go by a publisher who had never met him, who let the elevator door close in his face when they accidentally came close, who is going to preside over the death of Rochester print journalism. A company that was once based in Rochester has decided to turn its back on Rochester.
It has gotten rid of Mr. Rochester.
Of all the insane layoffs of recent years, in whatever medium, this is the one that has shaken me the worst. It is an act of colossal stupidity and disloyalty. It brings home the sad realization that the best newspaper and radio people I’ve ever met have all been laid off by their intellectual and moral inferiors for reasons neither explained nor comprehensible.
Bob Matthews didn’t deserve this.
Bob Matthews deserves to have scholarships and stadiums named after him. He deserves to have his name hanging from the rafters and engraved on trophies. For decades he wrote sports for his hometown and for the country he defended in war. Countless millions across the nation have read his words and his opinions and looked forward to reading more.
It is a reflection of how he affected people that their memories of him are all personal. It is hard to talk about Bob Matthews without talking about yourself, because he touched you, because he was someone taken to the heart. People talk about reading his column as children, sitting on their father’s lap, and of having it clipped out and mailed to them while they were in the service, and of reaching out for home by calling him up on the Internet.
And all that has been thrown away.
Thrown away by a company that has a stunning ability to alienate its potential audience in some 80 cities across America.
We used to sit in adjoining seats. Now we sit in the same seat. For 17 years, I have been the daytime occupant of his nighttime radio chair. We’ve worked from the same studio and spoken to the same people, and I’ve tried to have the same decency and ability.
I love him.
And I told him that last night during the 6:30 news break.
I went to see him because I believed that Scott Pitoniak and I were possibly the only two who would know what he was feeling. He was positive, he was blunt, he was Bobby the American, but he was also heartbroken, and I was sickened at the stunning act of betrayal. After making that paper what it was, for decade after decade, they threw him away. They told him 55 Exchange Boulevard wasn’t his home anymore.
Bob Matthews deserves better than that.
Bob Matthews deserves to go out like Grantland Rice or Peter B. Taub.
And I don’t expect the bosses at the newspaper to get either reference.
For almost 25 years, Bob Matthews has been my example and lodestar. As a young reporter, I watched his writing style and matched his work ethic. I recognized the folksy, almost innocent honesty of the man and his writing. I observed his passions and peculiarities, and the success he found by simply being himself.
I saw that, even with his newspaper popularity, he was at his most intimate on the radio, and that the daily talk show built him a following which rivaled his Rochester readership. It was because of Bob Matthews’ radio show that I began the process of trying to get my own radio show. I followed where he went, and I talked the way he talked. Bob Matthews is a master of radio, a man whose clumsiness is his brilliance, whose audience is his family, whose show is his gift.
As a columnist and as a broadcaster, I significantly patterned myself after Bob Matthews. He was the person, in the newspaper and on the radio, who I wanted to be and who I wanted to be like.
And following him – from the Times-Union to the Democrat and Chronicle to WHAM – has been not just the theme, but also one of the great joys of my professional life.
Bob Matthews is family, for me and for most of the people in our region.
And yesterday the paper stabbed him in the back. Yesterday, the paper stabbed us all in the back.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012