Wednesday, October 20, 2021
Oct. 20, 2021

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Press Talk: Desk cleaning treasures

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This old promotion was one of many items found when Lou Brancaccio cleaned out his office.
This old promotion was one of many items found when Lou Brancaccio cleaned out his office. Photo Gallery

Wait. What?

Are you telling me it’s been a year since I stepped down as editor of The Columbian? And the paper is going strong? And virtually no one — except maybe that one guy who liked to regularly call and swear — misses me? Well, I’m also pretty sure all those political types — to whom I wrote love letters in my weekly column — they must miss me too. Right?

But I digress. This column really isn’t about my being gone a year. It’s about what I was forced to do when I left. No dramatic pause required here. What I had to do a year ago was clean up the 20 years’ worth of mess I had accumulated in my office. (Sorry about that, boss.)

As I was throwing stuff out by the can full I suddenly stopped and began to ponder. (Hint to future retirees: Pondering becomes a full-time job.) Some of this stuff is like (now is the time for a dramatic pause) a time capsule!

I began looking more closely at my, ah, artifacts and saved a few items for your viewing pleasure. Let’s begin.

The chart from hell

By now, everyone knows the struggle newspapers face. The business model that served the industry for a couple of hundred years is broken. But 15 years ago , then-advertising director Bernie Schultz might have hit on the Holy Grail of solutions.

We were at our yearly retreat. Back then, things were going pretty well, but we always were looking for ways to improve. When it was Bernie’s turn, he calmly walked up to the easel with a marker in hand and began to outline his proposal.

At first it looked … like something. A few desks, a few departments, something sort of round. Then more desks and departments. Then lines connecting the desks and departments. His marker was moving faster now. Here, there, everywhere!

When it was over, I simply had no words. I snapped a photo of what was surely Bernie’s genius. I took it back to my office to study it more closely. But I could never understand it. I could never interpret the magic. If only Indiana Jones were here. Eventually I made a business card out of it because I knew that someday this would be the answer. I just didn’t know what.

High political drama

Four years ago, there was quite the political drama playing out when a seat came open on the then-Board of Clark County Commissioners. The two incumbents had to appoint a third member.

When the possibilities began bubbling up as to whom that someone might be, I wrote a speculative column that Craig Pridemore was a strong possibility.

The next day, I received a five page email from Craig, a former county commissioner and state legislator, explaining his views on why he was considering getting back into the game. It also dished on a number of other players.

“In the following, I say many things that I, as a ‘politician’ should never say,” Pridemore wrote. And indeed he did.

The email was sometimes brooding, sometimes melancholy, but also very insightful and brilliantly composed.

Craig — who now works as the chief executive officer of Columbia River Mental Health Services — has always been one of my favorite politicians. He’s never been a big fan of mine, but I’ve always had great respect for his intellect and service to community.

After reading his letter back then, I opted not to print it — not because it wasn’t fascinating — but because I just didn’t think it added enough to the issue at hand.

So I threw it in my desk.

Craig was not appointed. Still, when the seat came open later, he ran for it and lost. After that he later vowed to stay clear of politics forevermore. (Don’t look at his Facebook page if you want to believe that.)

I reread that email as I was throwing stuff out. It intrigued me all these years later. Hey, he’s a very bright guy. And if there was ever a master class in local politics, it could be completely designed around this email alone.

Blackhawk down

You remember former state Sen. Don Benton, right? He’s been living off the taxpayers, well, almost forever. When he got bounced out of his county job here, he landed in — you guessed it — Washington, D.C., living off the taxpayers again. President Trump vowed to drain the swamp but filled it back up with the likes of Benton.

But let me take you back to 1995. A proposed Interstate 5 bridge was being discussed (apparently we love endless bridge discussions) and Benton stood to voice his solution. He suggested that rather than build a bridge, we should ferry people across the Columbia River by helicopter!

I’m not kidding! We wrote a story on it.

Later — much later — Benton would say it was all a big joke, but it remains lore in our community.

By then it was too late for some anti-Benton types. “Air Benton” buttons were produced and distributed all around town. I still had a few in my desk.

Need a C-note?

Back around 2000, when The Columbian had money, I proposed a rather wacky promotional idea: I would walk around town, and when I found someone reading The Columbian, I would give him or her $100.

I found one of the signs we made for the promotion stuck in my drawer.

The campaign became so popular that I couldn’t go outside without someone bum-rushing me, waving a Columbian and shouting “Where’s my $100?”

We had to adjust.

I purchased a tie with $100 bills printed on it and we told the community the contest was in play only when I was wearing that tie. This promotion — as we used to say back in the day — was “so money.”

Kolchak

When I graduated from the University of Florida, I was so fascinated with the idea that I was actually going to be a real, live reporter, I bought a specialty license plate. But instead of putting my name on it, I chose “Kolchak.”

For you youngsters out there, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” was a TV series that aired for one season in the mid-’70s. Carl Kolchak was a reporter in Chicago who had a penchant for writing bold, fascinating, outrageous stories.

Although Kolchak wasn’t real, what resonated with me was his focused insistence on getting the big story.

My first year as a reporter, I hid on the top of a building so I could take photos of a county commissioner who would regularly park illegally and get ticketed for it. But those parking tickets were voided because he was a county commissioner.

The sources I had developed had tipped me to what was going on. The practice ended after that story appeared. Kolchak would be proud, I thought.

I’ve worked in the four corners of the U.S., and no matter where I went, that Kolchak plate came with me.

As a reminder.

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