Sunday, July 24, 2016

Working for (With) Friends

Fuzzy Photo by Evan Brandt
Mercury Photo Chief John Strickler says your retirement is not official until you get an original Alan MacBain

I've been known to observe on occasion that there are two kinds of friends in your life; friends of shared interests, and friends of shared experience.

The best friends are, of course, those who fill both categories.

For 19 years, I have been lucky enough to work with an entire stable of professionals who fill both categories.

As in all offices, they come and they go -- people like John Gentzel, Michelle Karas, Brandie Kessler,  Kevin Hoffman, Dan Creighton and Frank Otto have all gone now -- and if they are lucky, the section of the office they sit it is in what Mercury Editor Nancy March calls "the back row."

While such friends are rare enough and a joy to work with when the gears mesh, rarer still is when one or two of those friends is also your boss.

Perhaps it was because I was a newsroom boss in a previous life and I had a pretty good inkling of what the newspaper needed on a given day.

Maybe it was because we shared the same intense sense of mission about local journalism.

Or who knows, maybe it was just karma.

Whatever the reason, for just shy of 20 years Nancy March, and I have shared ideas, beers and the trust to
edit each other's columns (although its not like I had much choice.)

I won't fill this space with recollections of remember-that-time things you would know nothing about.

Trust me, we've done so much of that lately over the good-bye lunches, that Memory Lane is closed down for re-paving and the Good Old Days have asked for their union break.

Let's just say "pursuing your bliss," as my wife calls it, is a good way to make a living.

What I would like to tell you is that with the departure from the newsroom of Nancy and Photo Editor John Strickler, Pottstown is losing friends it may not have known it had.

John was born in Pottstown, raised in the North End, and Nancy just a few miles away in Pine Forge.

I have met  few people who remained so steadfastly devoted to the welfare of this little town along the Schuylkill as the two of them.

Clear-eyed and honest enough to recognize that telling Pottstown's story also means pointing out the negatives, as well as drawing out the positives, both were also more protective of Pottstown than you would know -- doing what they could, when they could, to make things a little better.

The example that springs to my mind occurred several years ago, when Pottstown had organized a fantastic, well-organized, well-attended event that drew thousands. It was called "Open Doors."

Apparently ignorant of this, Pottstown Police had staged a massive warrant sweep that same morning and the front page was destined to carry both stories, souring the infrequent good feeling that would be projected on our front page by the coverage of Open Doors.

Although rubbed against the grain to sit on big news, it was easier to convince Nancy that the warrant sweep did not need to be on the front page that day than it would have been someone who cared less about Pottstown.

"Let's let Pottstown have its day," I remember her saying.

To the readers, that decision was invisible, but also invaluable, even if just for one day.

Their legacy has been thousands of those decisions over thousands of days, none of which came with a byline.

It could be something as simple as a heartwarming photo, or something as difficult as pushing to recognize and tastefully teasing out a touching moment in a tragic story.  

I have seen John put his camera down and turn away from what many might consider an award-wining front page shot because he knows the damage it may do. "I'm not shooting that," he'd mutter.

John likes to say "I'm not a photographer, I'm a newsman," which is not entirely true because he is a truly gifted photographer, one who wears his heart on his sleeve.

But even if we'll allow him to define himself, I would suggest an amendment that he call himself a "Pottstown newsman."

Nevertheless, the only thing that ever stays the same is that everything is forever changing.

No doubt someone will read this and say "everyone can be replaced," which is true enough on paper.

But I would counter with a quote I published in this space last week from Erica Batdorf, who said "I've learned that leadership is not position. It is state of mind."

Both Nancy and John always had (and, in all likelihood always will have) a Pottstown-centric state of mind.

So yes, there are other photographers and we will have another editor at The Mercury, but I would be unwilling to call them replacements.


  1. Congratulations to John and Nancy! Thank you for everything you've done for Pottstown!

  2. Congratulations to John and Nancy! Thank you for everything you've done for Pottstown!

  3. Nancy and John two people of honesty, integrity and toughness. Our community is fortunate to have a local newspaper that holds as one of it's mission to serve the public and be the eyes, ears and voice that holds our community accountable. Only those that fear the truth want to keep the public uninformed. John and Nancy have spent a lifetime of service they will be missed by those that care for our community.

  4. Thank you John and Nancy for everything. Nancy has always helped when I needed. She will be missed.
    ~ Mrs. Valerie Jackson