Monday, October 29, 2007

Get Me Rewrite!

[Eulogy] Today I attended Lou Bate's funeral. Bate died of complications from a stroke last week in Bountiful. He was 82.

So give me a trip down Memory Lane, wouldja?

Lou was my first "real world" newspaper editor. He put in nearly four decades at the
Deseret Morning News. He was city editor for 13 years -- from 1974 to 1987. This was the glory era for many American newspapers, even the D-News. It was the post-Watergate period, the same year Richard Nixon resigned. But locally, it was the D-News -- surprisingly to many who read the paper nowadays -- that kicked ass with investigative journalism. The paper embraced serious investigative reporting with its "Pinpoint Team," consisting of three great reporters (Bob Mullins, Joe Costanzo, Dale Van Atta). The team regularly broke stories of political corruption, consumer fraud and pretty much worked to keep Utah pols honest.

In that brief time, the then-afternoon paper made
The Salt Lake Tribune (its gray front page still running a load of wire copy) look paltry. The D-News was every bit as Mormon Church-owned as it is today. But executive editor Bill Smart and (the late) managing editor DeAnn Evans were pros who kept the news pages honest. Somehow they managed to maintain a sense of journalistic independence that really no longer exists at the paper.

They also saw to it that the news had an actual "news hole." If the story had merit, they saw there was enough space to publish it with facts and context.

Neither of Salt Lake's mainstream dailies can claim that high ground today -- even though on-line space is infinite. Mostly, the stories lack depth. Context.

Bill, DeAnn and Lou also made a point of hiring a lot of "gentiles," aka non-Mormons, in that decade and a half. It helped keep the newsroom even, honest and a lot of fun. My first job fresh out of the U. of U. was covering the suburbs with four other twenty-somethings. Lou was always exuding power from his desk at the front of the (male-dominated) newsroom. He scared the shit out of us newbies, actually.

Lou was a stickler for good reporting and editing. He was a man of few words, but when he had something to tell a young and naive reporter, he said it. Not so much loudly, but very firmly. I learned a lot from him. As role models go, Ed Asner's "Lou Grant" comes to mind. Most people won't remember that TV character from the '70s, I'm sure. Lou Grant was tough and crusty. So was Lou Bate. And yes, Lou had a soft side. Sometimes he'd slip and call a young reporter "pal." Somehow, even after making what seemed the worst mistake possible, hearing "pal" always made me feel better.

RIP Lou. (Holly Mullen)

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