I was asked to write something about an old friend. Back in my past life as a newspaperman, I spent most of my time there with Paul Waldschmidt.
A fun-loving, cranky, hilarious, sweet, sarcastic man who would regale us with tales of his days at the UPI wire service, or his time in military, or stories from the campaign trail.
Community newspapers hold a special place in my heart. I’m so glad I wound up spending seven years of my life at the Sand Springs Leader instead of in some giant daily newspaper newsroom. We did the hard news too, of course, but we also had to balance it with community goings-on.
We were lucky to be in Sand Springs, a town I liked better than most. I still tell people that’s where I’m from in Oklahoma, instead of Jenks where I went to school, or Tulsa, where I was born. Sand Springs had its less-than-fun moments (my wife said she feared for my safety from some right wing nutjob on more than one occasion). But it also was a great place to live and work, with some really wonderful people. Paul was from there, and so when he came to work at the Leader, he already had that love of community that i had to grow into.
Every paper has characters, but it seems like the ones at the Leader were head and shoulders above those in the rest of the world. We’d have stupid arguments and fun arguments, and fun, stupid arguments. We’d somehow get a paper out two times a week. Paul was a big reason why. He could cover everything, it seemed like, and volunteered to do the odd-hour things.
And working with Paul was just plain fun. We’d manage to waste time talking about totally unimportant things, and totally important things, when we should have been working on deadline.
On days or nights after a deadline was met, we’d go out to El Maguey for lunch or dinner. Or we’d just hang out in the office, both talking long after the job was done and we could have gone home.
Paul was the guy who enjoyed being a reporter. He’d often tell me he got into it because he figured out that he was good at giving book reports in school, and figured being a reporter would be a chance to do that sort of thing for a living.
He’d cover community and schools and made sure he knew everybody in the system, from the superintendent to the janitor. he covered all churches like they were his own, and knew the value of getting faces into the paper. It wasn’t Woodstein-level stuff, but he knew it was stuff that mattered for community papers.
Paul and I both started working for the paper under old man Retherford. The man was cheap but left us alone. The paper got sold, and I left for Utah, then it got sold again. After serving two years (that felt like 2o) in a newspaper in the oilpatch of Vernal, Utah, I got out of community journalism altogether and into marketing.
But Paul was there. He was at the Leader and he was a reporter until he physically could not be there any more.
And now he’s gone. And I’ll miss him.