Newspaper editorial page editors sweat and toil though I suspect not in the same way as, say, a welder on a skyscraper, a young apprentice in a dress factory or a coal miner.
I’ve done none of the latter but I have been the former. For a few years I was fortunate to serve as Editorial Page Editor for The Times Leader. And in early 2005 I had the opportunity to meet with other page editors from across the Knight-Ridder chain, the company that owned the TL at the time. At the conference in San Jose, Calif. — in Silicon Valley headquarters and a harbinger of things to come for newspaper publishing — many if not all of the editors expressed being over-burdened and under-resourced. At one point during the conference the moderator asked for a show of hands of one-man/woman shops — papers with just an editor, no assistants, deputies or clerks. Mine was among the 30 percent or so of hands raised that day.
Though I enjoyed no additional resources after that I felt a little more kinship. Misery, indeed, loves company.
In those solitary shops, the one person writes editorials, manages the letters to the editors, assembles elements on the pages — one a day and two or more on Sunday for The Times Leader back then — fields complaints and comments from readers, co-workers and bosses and organizes edit board meetings. It’s a full day and sometimes the editorial page editor uses a fall back “evergreen” editorial or revisits a favorite subject.
For me, the favorite subject was the coal mine stamp. From 2001 through 2005 I wrote about the effort of local folks who campaigned to have the United States Postal Service honor coal miners with a commemorative stamp. I wrote colorfully (or so I thought); I wrote persuasively (or so I thought). We published the name and address of the head of the postal service and of legislators to be encouraged to support the cause.
I wrote about the coal mine stamp enough that I took a ribbing from colleagues . The truth is in my four years as editorial page editor I wrote about it no more than five times. OK, maybe six times. Or seven.
I moved on to other jobs at the paper but the champions of the coal miner stamp didn’t end their efforts to persuade the U.S. Postal Service’s Citizens Stamp Advisory Council to issue the stamp.
And on Friday a stamp was finally released. “Made in America: Building a Nation” has 12 stamps that represent a dozen workers, including a coal miner.
At first it seemed like less than the full measure. Instead of a single commemorative issue, the coal miner is one of 12. Sort of like the sleight husband/wildlife artist Norm Gunderson feels in the movie “Fargo” when his mallard illustration is chosen for a stamp.
Norm It’s just a three-cent stamp.
Marge: It’s terrific.
Norm: Hautman’s blue-winged teal got the 29-cent. People don’t much use the three-cent.
Marge: Oh, for Pete’s sake. Of course they do. Whenever they raise the postage, people need the little stamps.
Just as I wrote in previous editorials way back when, the coal miners fueled the growth of America. And the other 11 stamps issued Friday represent that growth as well.
The other stamps include Lewis Hine photos of assorted construction and manufacturing laborers, a millinery apprentice, a Linotyper in a publishing house, a railroad worker and the coal miner.
Rather than complain they didn’t get singular honors I take comfort that the coal miner is in the company of other hardworking professions.
I’ve labored at a few jobs prior to newspapering. And the Industrial Revolution is represented on our family tree. There were coal miners on the Butkiewicz side of the family. I have my grandfathers’ miners certificate that authorized him to work in Wilkes-Barre’s anthracite mines. I have the family stories about he gladly got out to run a tavern and then paint houses, anything to escape the mines.
On my mother’s side of the family, I have Lawlor men who worked on railroads that hauled the coal. I also have heard the stories about a cane hanging in the closet that supposedly belonged to an uncle who lost a leg after falling beneath a train car.
Apocryphal or not, the family tree is a snapshot of immigration patterns and two of the dangerous industries that drew workers to Northeastern Pennsylvania and other regions.
I don’t think my “toil” as a scrivener on the editorial page had anything to do with the issue of a commemorative coal mine stamp. I’m just happy to see it happen.
Joe Butkiewicz is Executive Editor of The Times Leader. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.