Barry Lewis: It all started with a little help from Dad

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By Barry Lewis,

I was 16 when my dad managed to get me a freelance writing job to report on the Jets for a magazine on Long Island. I have no idea how he pulled that off.

I wasn’t a very good writer and it wasn’t like my dad was in the publishing business. But he always believed in me and somehow got folks to think I was as good as he probably talked me up to be. He wouldn’t let me fail. And I never wanted to let him down.

We lived in North Massapequa and I had to get to the Jets training camp at Hofstra University. It’s a 15-minute drive. Only I didn’t have a car or a license. I had a bicycle. That’s an hour ride.

Dad was an entertainer who worked late. I didn’t want to wake him so with a bulky recorder in my backpack I pedaled to my assignment. I was two miles into my journey when Dad pulled alongside me. He got the bike into the trunk and drove me to the Jets camp. There was only one name authorized to enter. Dad smiled, gave me a kiss and said he couldn’t be prouder.

I don’t always give much thought to my dad on Father’s Day. I tell myself it’s because I worry about work or I’m busy with my own three sons but those are only excuses to relieve my guilt. In these last few weeks I’ve thought a lot about my dad. How much of a role he’s played in my career. He opened doors, created opportunities while providing unwavering support and 47 years of memories.

Dad watched as I cut my teeth on community journalism. I learned the best people to talk to at a town meeting are those hanging out in the back of the room. They often knew as much as those behind the name plates. And if you’re smart and listen, you’ll get more than just coffee from the waitress at the diner.

I worked at daily newspapers in Port Jervis and Connecticut before a good friend and an even better wordsmith, Mike Levine, hired me to be the Sullivan County editor for the Times Herald-Record. I thought it was the best job in journalism – until five years ago when I became executive editor.

Like Mike, I know that this community and this newspaper need each other. Community journalism is like an old-fashioned town doctor or teacher. We can’t repair a broken arm or unlock the secrets of algebra. But we play an intimate, vital role in the life of a community.

The suits that own us talk about digital platforms, online resources and multimedia content. That’s fine for the boardroom but after more than 30 years I know that what folks really want to read in their local newspaper is when is someone gonna fix the roads, why can’t we get a supermarket and how can I afford to send my kid to college and still pay the mortgage?

We must always be reliable.

Tell people’s stories with dignity, honor the heroes among us and defend a community’s interest. Chronicle births, passings and graduations. Forever be a watchdog. We can communicate in no time with anyone on this planet and yet we lose focus on what’s going on with our neighbors. I don’t believe that techno media immediacy should ever trump journalistic integrity. Or newspaper intimacy.

Only the suits and I see things a bit differently so it’s time for me to say goodbye and thank you.

I can’t tell you how honored and humbled I am to have helped lead the great journalistic tradition of this newspaper.

Dad, I hope I did you proud.

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