A colleague recently suggested I write a column about what it’s like to be the editor of this paper. You know, pull back the curtain and show people how the magic happens.
Well, to be honest, there’s not a lot of magic going on here. It’s usually days and days of routine, mundane stuff, occasionally followed by a few moments of abject terror when a story breaks and I have to drop what I’m doing and go chase it.
It got me to thinking about my career and when some of those moments happened. When you think about community journalism, you probably think about photos of giant check presentations, town budget stories and high school football games. We are not war correspondents reporting from a combat zone in flak jackets as bullets fly over.
But what we do is also important. We are the watchdogs of local democracy. A lot of small towns have lost their local papers over the past 10 years and as a result, their governments have been allowed to operate unfettered and without restraint. When that happens, things can get sketchy fast.
But when we are there, and watching, there are always those who don’t like it and would prefer we go away. And while I’ve never felt I’ve been in harm’s way like those war correspondents dodging bullets, there have been times when I’ve been compelled to look under my car to see if anything with a blinking red light has been duct taped to the gas tank.
I’ve written in this space before about my time as the managing editor at the weekly paper up in Pawling. It was mostly the quiet, mundane stuff I mentioned earlier. We did have a few spectacular fires and one time we had a guy dressed as Santa Claus rob a bank. (He was caught about two minutes later… easy to identify!)
But we also had a crooked school superintendent. He was sketchy from the get-go, arriving in our district from a school in upstate New York that had given him a glowing recommendation. (We found out later, he’d been nothing but trouble up there as well, but their school board would say and do anything to get him to leave.)
Anyway, he had this penchant for calling me up to complain anytime we wrote something he didn’t like.
“Did we get something wrong?” I would ask. “Is the information wrong?”
“No,” he would reply, “I just don’t think it was appropriate.”
Appropriate? In other words, he would have preferred people didn’t know about it.
It all came to a head when he discovered a star football player from southern Westchester County who had a grade point average of less than zero had been suspended from his team. He paid the kid’s mom off and moved him up to Pawling and secretly had the district pay the rent on his apartment, where he lived by himself. He was placed on the Pawling football team and rushed for more than 100 yards every game until the ruse was uncovered… by us.
Of course, the superintendent didn’t think our articles were “appropriate” and told me in no uncertain terms that I should probably sleep with one eye open. I didn’t take this lightly because the dude had his supporters and they were quite fanatical. (To this day, I could never figure out why.)
A few days later, I came out of my office to find that the two back tires on my Toyota had been slashed. That seemed to end it and some time later the guy left the school district (probably with a great letter of recommendation in hand) to wreak havoc somewhere else.
A few years ago, I was working for a paper called the Hudson Valley Reporter. It covered northern Westchester, Putnam and southern Dutchess counties. I was the Dutchess editor. It was a short-lived endeavor, but I think we did good work while it lasted.
One day, during this time, I was standing in line with my shopping cart at the Hannaford supermarket in Pawling. There was another guy in the line one aisle over and he seemed to be giving me the stink eye. I met his gaze and he said, “Are you Bob Dumas?”
Being in the business that I am, I’m used to this. “I am him,” I said.
“You and I are going to sit down and have a little talk,” he said in a way that made me think he wanted to do a lot more than just talk.
“About what?” I asked with a sigh, already bored with this guy.
“I don’t like what you wrote about my daughter!” he hissed. “You and I are gonna have a talk.”
Well, by now, we had the attention of all our fellow shoppers standing in the lines with us.
“Sure. Well, I’m right here. Talk to me.”
Instead, the guy pulled his cart out of the line and headed off deeper into the bowels of the store. I chose not to follow, and the other shoppers continued to regard me with great curiosity.
“Um… no autographs,” I mumbled.
I headed out to the parking lot, frequently looking over my shoulder. But I never met the guy again and still don’t know who his daughter is or what I wrote about her.
More recently, you may recall a story from last month when a Mahopac resident had a standoff with police over his violation of an order of protection his estranged wife had taken out against him. Using his Instagram account, he disseminated the message that the cops were there to confiscate his gun and/or magazines under the state’s red flag laws.
This was picked up on social media around the world by militants and Second Amendment enthusiasts who took a dim view of red flag laws. They encouraged the like-minded who lived nearby to head to the standoff and fight the police. They also came after Mahopac News, wondering why we weren’t on the scene to expose the actions of these deep state traitors (aka police).
When I finally wrote the story—the next day—and revealed that the police weren’t there to take his guns but, rather, to arrest him for breaking the order of protection, one of those militant types wrote, “Mahopac News is printing lies and will be dealt with accordingly.”
Fortunately, these keyboard jockeys are mostly cowards who live in their parents’ basements, surviving on Cheetos and Red Bull while they propagate their toxic drivel. But in this day and age, you can never be sure.
So, when people ask me, don’t you get bored going to town board meetings and taking those photos of giant check presentations, I say, “You and I are going to have a little talk.”