, Gloucester, MA

June 25, 2013

Letter: Richard Gaines, a true journalism original

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Richard Gaines gave me my first job in journalism.

I was right out of college, and he was looking for an assistant. He was nice enough to meet with me, and then take a flier on a 23-year-old kid with not a day of journalism experience.

I loved reading The Phoenix back then. I was a fledgling political junkie, and the Phoenix was all over politics — none more so than its legendary editor, Richard Gaines, who at that moment was the go-to expert in the field of Michael Dukakis Studies (it was hot there for a time, I swear).

The pay came something like $12,000 a year. Richard told me to think of it as someone paying me to go to journalism school. It sounded, at the time, like a clever way to justify the Phoenix’s, uh, creative wage structure. But he was right. He gave me the gift of osmosis, the right to come to work in a newsroom, overhear phone calls, learn to love the species. I was hooked: the gift of loving my job, and my new profession.

I remember on my first day, Richard gave me one piece of advice as a journalist: don’t make assumptions. It sounded somewhat obvious at time, if a bit cryptic. But over the years that’s stuck with me, just as it’s become evident to me that “assumptions” lie at the core of so much of the blah conventional wisdom that drives journalism today.

The tyranny of the pack — the deadness of the noise machine. It’s all built on “assumptions:” default notions like, say, that a black man could never be elected president, or that Hillary Clinton is inevitably next.

Richard also gave me the gift of an exhilarating example: he approached everything with single-minded passion. Whatever he was focused on at a given moment was the single most important thing in the world.

A few months into my time at the Phoenix, Richard decided that the moribund Red Sox team of 1989 needed exactly one thing to turn it around: they needed to bring up a minor league pitcher, then at Pawtucket, named Eric Hetzel. And damn if Richard didn’t devote about 70 inches of copy to making the case for Hetzel’s promotion to the big club — immediately.

I remember this vividly because I served as Richard’s “researcher” for this story. It didn’t matter, in the end, that Hetzel won three games and the Sox stayed lousy. All that mattered, to me at least, was that I shared my first byline with the great Richard Gaines, and I was launched.

It’s been a thrill ever since, and thanks for that, Richard, and for everything else. You were a good man with a romping mind — and an original.


Washington, D.C.

Chief national correspondent

New York Times Magazine

Washington, D.C.