By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Friday, July 13, 2012
The past 19 months have been a great ride — a great opportunity to do something I do well, something that provides a service to the community where I grew up and have lived a large portion of my life.
But great rides eventually do end, and so I bid farewell. On Monday, I begin working full-time as the local editor for St. Charles Patch, one of many Patch.com websites across the country that are taking root largely in communities that have been abandoned by the print media. It is a bold, courageous experiment, and I consider myself fortunate to be signing on to this endeavor.
For the past year and a half, I’ve reported and live-blogged about Elgin city government, its administration, its elected officials, its residents. I have written and live-blogged about some of the activities of the Elgin Community Network, the League of Women Voters.
I used social media and the Internet to cover a huge blizzard that reminded me of some of the snowfalls I saw in my childhood in Elgin — or perhaps this was the first snowfall I’d seen as an adult in Elgin that matched my size today at a level that was proportionate with my height oh so many years ago.
For the first time in my life, I got to ride along in a city snowplow during the graveyard shift the night of that February 2011 blizzard, and I got to write my story and post it on BocaJump at 6 a.m. — along with a grainy-looking photo taken with a cheap cellphone camera. I was dead tired but exhilarated. Hours later, my sons would help me clear our own driveway and sidewalks. Then I began writing again — and would continue to do so more in the coming days — about the big dig we all faced after that storm.
I’ve interviewed and written about City Council candidates, watched as some faces changed on the City Council, and of course I covered the City Council and city administration as they struggled to resolve a budget crisis that resulted from the same lousy economy that led to my own layoff after 16 years with Sun-Times Media, the owner of The Courier-News.
I watched both before and after my own pink slip came as good people were let go. In the process, I found deep compassion nearly a year later when I wrote one of the more difficult stories I have ever had to write — about the folks the city laid off in January.
For 19 months, I wrote story after story about news, some good, some bad, that I believed was important to this city’s residents. My work at BocaJump was among several part-times jobs I have juggled during this period, along with classes I took over the past six months. I also struggled as my emotions ebbed and flowed as my family and I worked through the realities of my underemployment.
The stories I composed were a key source of joy, sometimes a struggle. But, over the past 19 months, they served as a reminder, along with the blog I began two weeks after I was laid off, that, while I served for 20 years as an editor, I truly had missed being a writer.
My service to this community would not have been possible were it not for BocaJump — and more specifically, to its owners — Ruth Munson, her late husband Steve, J.J. Bailey and his dad, Mike, with whom I’d worked at The Courier for 14 years before Sun-Times Media shipped me down to Aurora. I worked there two more years before I was laid off.
Mike was among the first people I called the day I was let go. I called my wife, my Dad, my pastor and Mike. He’d been a great boss for all those years at The Courier, and I’d felt a loyalty to him since I began working with him in late 1994. But, he had also been laid off twice — first by the company that used to own The Courier, then by the same company that would lay me off some months later. I suddenly had begun to understand what it was like to lose something I’d loved doing for so long.
On the day I was laid off, Mike told me to take a couple of weeks to get over the shock, and “I’ll put you to work — you won’t get rich doing this, but maybe it’ll help.”
He was right on both counts, of course. Journalism has never been a profession in which reporters amass wealth, particularly working as freelancers. But help it did. That also was the point, I think, at which I began to think of the man I long had admired as a great boss now as a great friend. Mike encouraged me, sometimes egged me on, and he gave me free reign to cover what I wanted. I hope that what I chose to cover proved informative and helpful to the community.
During my first year with BocaJump, I came to know Steve Munson well enough to really, genuinely like him, although I never felt as if I’d had enough time to develop a real friendship. The same is true of Ruth. They are both great people. Consequently, when Steve got sick, I felt shy about going to visit. Perhaps I feared my dropping by would be presumptuous, an intrusion on my part — I can’t say for certain. But I wish I had. Steve was a good man, and those who knew him miss him. Ruth is every bit as much of a gem, and I wish she had not had to endure such a loss.
J.J. I had first met when he was in middle school, I think, then a couple of times when he was in high school and then college. During his college years, I got a chance to work with him a bit when he interned at The Courier. He has traits that remind me of both of his parents, yet of course with his own individual personality as well. He has grown to be a good man.
These are people who made an impact, a very positive impact, on my life during a period of crisis. I will carry my gratitude for that far longer than my 19-month struggle.
For those of you whom I have met or interviewed or talked with during my time at BocaJump, thank you for putting up with my bad puns, for patiently answering my questions.
And please, don’t be strangers. If you see me on the street, please stop me and say hi — my eyesight is not as good as it was in my youth, so please don’t think me rude if I don’t recognize you first.Thank you for allowing me to serve this city as a journalist.