A singular New Hampshire editor inspired this Kansas journalist — and so many others, too
The tools of journalism can look deceptively simple. Yet great mentors can make all the difference in showing young reporters and editors how to create great work. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Mike Pride changed my life.
The legendary editor of New Hampshire’s Concord Monitor newspaper, Mike hired me back in 2005, at a particularly challenging time in my career. I had spent an unfulfilling few years as a copy editor at big newspapers in central Florida and wanted to return to a smaller newsroom, one where I knew I could make a difference.
The only problem? Even 18 years ago, few small newspapers had especially high standards or created especially great work.
The Monitor was different. Mike was different. And over more than a decade in that newsroom I moved into designing pages, writing book reviews, drawing comic strips, editing features sections, crafting columns and editorials, and eventually writing pieces for PolitiFact. Without that background, only possible in a community newspaper where staffers were trusted to experiment, I wouldn’t be here today.
I’m writing about Mike today because he’s facing the end of his life. I hope this piece appears while he can still read or hear it.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been researching Kansas journalists from the middle years of the 20th century. For many of them, Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White transformed not only their careers, but their conceptions of themselves. His influence persisted and persists still in this state. As you’ll see in just a few paragraphs, I’m one of many to have their lives changed in a similar way — by Mike Pride.
An Army veteran, Mike spent a quarter century as the Monitor’s top editor. His last year in that role, 2008, he returned to the reporting ranks and wrote stories about the presidential primary. He then served three years as the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes at Columbia University in New York City, before stepping down in 2017 to concentrate on writing books.
His successor as editor, Felice Belman, now works as deputy editor at the metro desk for the New York Times. While she took other jobs, Mike ended up hiring her four different times.
“He had created such a wonderful newsroom that it always felt like coming home,” she told me via email. “I loved how high he set our collective ambitions. One time he sent me to Arkansas for a week to report on Bill Clinton. One time he sent me to D.C. to cover David Souter’s Senate confirmation hearings. He even let me run the coverage of the Old Man of the Mountain’s collapse.”
Former Monitor reporter Margot Sanger-Katz also works at the Times these days, writing about health care at the Upshot. She talked about how Mike returned to reporting and, rather improbably, became a regular at lunchtime yoga sessions with much younger staffers.
“Mike brought a ton of authority and gravitas to his work,” she wrote in an email. “But he also remained open to learning in a way that was really inspiring and I’m sure helped to keep the paper from becoming stale.”
Bob Hohler, a Boston Globe sports investigative reporter, summed it up.
“None of the meaningful moments in my career would have been possible if not for Mike, and there are many others like me,” he wrote. “In places around the world where journalism matters — from Concord to world capitals and global hotspots — there are reporters with roots in Mike’s newsroom who are guided by his spirit and high standards.”
We should all be so lucky to have such mentors. With so many lives dominated by fleeting relationships, the fact that Mike reached out last summer via Twitter to compliment one of my Reflector columns meant the world.
Back to Kansas
Journalism role models don’t just live in New Hampshire, of course. I’ve been privileged to know many in Kansas.
Some have passed, and I remember them vividly. There was Tom Eblen, my adviser at the University Daily Kansan and a titanic figure. There was his wife, Jeannie, whose passing in 2021 left a hole in the hearts of all who knew her. There was Ben Wearing, the longtime executive editor at the Salina Journal, for whom I was lucky to intern over the summer of 2000.
Many are still with us, thank goodness, such as the erstwhile Malcolm Gibson, another University of Kansas mentor. I’m honored to have corresponded with Kansas journalism stalwarts such as Dave Ranney, who is playing a role in current affairs even in retirement.
But it’s difficult to escape the feeling that one age is passing. These journalistic figures enjoyed careers forged in the profitable world of the daily print newsroom. They had the luxury of not worrying about business models and social media traffic, at least not until the last few years. They worked within a world that had been shaped and molded already, and they drove journalistic institutions to new heights of quality and excellence. In the meantime, they taught both me and my peers so much about what it meant to serve a community and challenge those in power.
Annmarie Timmins, a longtime Monitor reporter, now works for our sister publication in New Hampshire, the Bulletin. She and her boss there, Dana Wormald, worked for Mike, too. Annmarie enjoyed covering smaller towns and stories — she was assigned Joe Biden for the 2008 primary.
Then considered a less-than-impressive candidate, Biden dropped out before she could do any in-depth reporting on his run.
“Among the things I appreciated about working for Mike was that he saw those little stories from Deerfield and Barnstead as no less important to our readers than what a presidential hopeful had to say,” she wrote me.
Ben Schmitt, deputy managing editor at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, remembered an important quality about Mike. He could forgive. With young journalists, prone to mistakes of carelessness and overexuberance, that’s important. (I might have groveled over a misspelled headline or two myself.)
“I got into a little trouble playing a newsroom prank that went awry and resulted in police response,” Schmitt told me via email. “Mike was pissed off, but he kept me on board. He could have easily fired me and would have been justified. I never forgot that lesson of a second chance as I later became a manager. ”
He hired Eileen Pollack out of college and, she said, gave her incredible freedom to write just about whatever she wanted.
He later brought her on to teach others.
“He even hired me to be a writing coach for all the Monitor-owned newspapers. A writing coach!” she said in an email. “I went on to publish 12 books, some fiction, some nonfiction, most of which Mike hated, but I know he supported my career.”
Building something new
The Concord Monitor that I was so lucky to become a part of in 2005 will never exist again. A small-town, family-owned newsroom supported almost entirely by local ad revenue, filled with enterprising young reporters, was a difficult thing to assemble even then.
My best friend for many of those years was Meg Heckman, an intrepid reporter who has become an assistant professor in Northeastern University’s School of Journalism and Media Innovation in Boston. She ended up writing a book with Mike.
“Our work lasted for more than a year, included interviews with dozens of elders and eventually became a book called ‘We Went to War,’ ” she wrote. “I’m a better person because of that project and all of the lessons Mike taught me about history and community and the power of great stories.”
Those lessons, you see, persist. We can’t necessarily recapture the old Monitor or the old Daily Kansan or William Allen White’s Emporia Gazette. Nor should we. They existed for other people and for other times.
But we can make new things.
Inspired by the example of Mike and others like him who cared above all about doing good work and serving their readers, we can make journalism for today and for years to come. People like Felice, Margot, Bob, Annmarie, Ben, Eileen and Meg are all doing so now, in their own ways, in their own worlds.
Here at Kansas Reflector, I hope to bring a little bit of that example with me, as I’m sure editor Dana does for the New Hampshire Bulletin.
Thank you, Mike. We’ll do our best to keep you memory — and your example — burning bright.
Clay Wirestone is Kansas Reflector opinion editor. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.
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