This week marks the end of an era at the Telegraph Herald. Even though I have been here nearly three decades and held six different jobs in this newsroom, beginning next week, I’ll be in uncharted waters.
All my years at the TH and nearly all of my career has been under the mentorship of Brian Cooper. Executive editor for more than 30 years, Brian will retire at the end of the week.
It’s hard for me to imagine life at 801 Bluff St. without him.
When I started here, I had never supervised anyone. Though I had been writing columns since high school, I had never written an editorial. Though I considered myself a leader, I had never run a meeting or mentored anyone. While I had cut my teeth in community journalism, there were volumes of things about our industry I didn’t know. All of that, I came to learn here, and nearly all of it, from Brian.
Always a stickler for details, Brian held everyone in the newsroom to the highest of standards. For years, there were certain newspaper rules that we referred to as “Cooper says” rules.
“Cooper says” if an individual is singled out for an award and we’re writing about it, get the person’s headshot and run it.
“Cooper says” don’t use “gets” in a headline — come up with a better verb.
“Cooper says” call every phone number we run in the paper, just to make sure it’s the right number.
More than anyone else I know, he just thinks like a journalist all the time. He listens intently, he pushes back on assumptions, and he always has another question that ought to be asked.
At times, his high expectations made all of us a little crazy. But the bar he set made the hundreds of journalists who passed through our newsroom over the years stretch themselves, dig deeper and work harder. I am far from a perfectionist, sometimes too willing to settle for “good enough.” Brian’s demand for excellence pushed me toward goals I never would have otherwise tried to achieve.
In many ways, Brian has been the steward of the Telegraph Herald’s reputation in our community. In addition to overseeing news and sports coverage for three decades, Brian has been the voice of the paper on our editorial page. He has approached that role with integrity at every turn.
As chairman of the Editorial Board, Brian led interviews with hundreds of politicians, businesspeople, educators, religious figures, health care providers and advocates. He helped distill those interviews into opinion pieces, which have sometimes served as guideposts in helping citizens parse the news of the day. We haven’t always gotten it right, and Brian was not afraid to admit when we missed and to try again.
I think I can say that no one knows better than I how challenging the job of executive editor can be. Every day, there is someone upset about something we published. Our days are filled with making one decision after another. We put out a new print product every single day, and our digital products are constantly evolving. It will be a while before someone surpasses Brian’s 30 years as executive editor, and it certainly won’t be me.
I feel blessed to have learned many things at Brian’s side. Perhaps the greatest gift he gave me was to step back from his role three years ago, allowing me the opportunity to move into the executive editor seat — while he stayed on to oversee the editorial page, special sections and to continue to be a mentor to me in my new role. I can’t imagine having been able to make that transition without his help.
Brian seems to be approaching retirement like he does everything else: ready to grab it with both hands. He and his wife, Ann, both ran half marathons a couple of weeks ago, traveled abroad a few weeks before that, and babysit grandchildren regularly. I don’t foresee any rocking chairs in his future.
Perhaps, too, he’ll have time to take a call from his old friend in the newsroom, who just might need to know once in a while what “Cooper says.”