The shaping of a journalist, staff

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By Michael Hicks

I woke up Saturday morning to the news of the passing of Jim Vance. Who you may ask? Let me explain.
Vance, for as long as I can remember, was the news anchor for NBC4, the local affiliate in Washington, D.C. The 75-year-old started at WRC-TV in 1969, two years before I was born. He was one of the first African-Americans to sit in the news anchor chair. No, he doesn’t have a nationally recognizable name like Walter Cronkite, Dan Rather or Peter Jennings, but he was a staple in Washington, D.C., television news.
Along with co-anchor Doreen Gentzler, who joined him for the local 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts in 1989, sportscaster George Michael and meteorologist Bob Ryan, the foursome WAS local broadcast television in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. They sat atop the ratings for more than 25 years. From the time I was in elementary school through the beginning of my journalism career in 1990 and until I left my rural Virginia upbringing in 1998 and ventured to South Carolina, they shaped what I thought local broadcast news was.
But they were more than that. They brought a sense of camaraderie and teamwork to the air every weekday that any business, not just news organization, could learn from. They clicked like a well-oiled machine. There was little hint of animosity among them. The bond between Vance and Michael was undeniable.
When Michael passed away on Christmas Eve in 2009 from leukemia, it left a void from my upbringing and cracked that seemingly impenetrable talented team. To me, Michael was what sports journalism was all about. Thankfully over the past 27 years, I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with many talented reporters and editors. Some have gone on to enjoy tremendous success.
A few months ago, our publisher, Kristin Witt, asked our office — newsroom, advertising, circulation and business office — to write one word on a piece of paper and pin it to a bulletin board. This word exemplified what you bring to work each and every day. My word was teamwork. I’m a firm believer that you’re only as good as the sum of your parts.
On March 9, when I moved into the editor chair for these newspapers, it wasn’t just to take the next step forward in my own career — this after a long time as a sports journalist — but it was also to ensure stability in a newsroom that has seen its fair share of changes over the years. Now, it hasn’t been easy in the first four months. We’ve lost one news reporter, who left for a tremendous opportunity he’d been working on for years, and we’ve had a revolving door in our sports editor position for the past year. But in the journalists we have on staff now, I sense, and it’s been said by others, that we have a camaraderie that hasn’t been seen in some times.
That brings me back to Jim Vance, George Michael and my upbringing in a tiny suburb an hour southeast of Washington, D.C. Vance, who, like Michael, passed away from cancer, brought class and dignity to the journalism profession. Even as he battled his demons with a cocaine addiction in the mid-1980s, he was the epitome of broadcast journalism. He was outspoken at times, but more times than not, his commentary was spot on.
Any journalist, be it in print or television, could learn a lot by following in Jim Vance’s footsteps. He set a trail for us to follow. He brought together a news team, one that I like to think we have at Evergreen Newspapers, that makes the overall product better collectively than it is individually. Thank you, Jim Vance, for being an undeniable part of my upbringing. You will be missed.

Michael Hicks is editor of Evergreen Newspapers. He may be reached at 303-350-1039 or via e-mail at mhicks@evergreenco.com.