Ernest Hemingway, who first made a name for himself as a journalist, once said: "There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed." This utterance came back to mind when former Bennington Banner editor Jim Therrien recently stepped down after six very successful years to join New England Newspapers’ flagship publication, the Berkshire Eagle.
Jim, an MCLA graduate who lives in Pownal, Vt., has had a storied career in the region, with stints over the past two decades at the Banner, the North Adams Transcript, and the Eagle.
My first meeting with Jim, a virtual one, was in the fall of 2006. About a month after he took over the Banner helm, he e-mailed me with words to this effect:
"I don’t know you, and I just got here, but there are a lot of folks out there mad that your column was dropped. How about we move it from arts to the op-ed page and send me one and we’ll restart it monthly?"
By the end of the year, "From The Stacks" was back in its weekly slot.
In many ways, I owe much of my journalistic career to Jim. Anyone in the business knows it’s hard enough to land in a newsroom, what with the tight economy and lesser job turnovers. Yet more recently, with industry belt-tightening at an all-time high, freelancers have had so many things going against them that it’s hard enough to get one gig, let alone more.
Any journalist will concede you can’t ask for more from your editor. Today, I work varied New England assignments - including the Advocate and Eagle - some as a result of Jim’s direct referrals, and occasionally land a national-level gig.
But ultimately, my modest endeavors will inexorably be tied to Jim’s faith in me. Whatever our disagreements over minutiae, the reason Jim is one of the best newspaper pros in New England is not only because he led his newsroom to dozens of awards and accolades. It’s also because the man can write, loves to write, and respects those around him who have that same passion.
Unfortunately, many editors, especially those at small dailies and weeklies, will tell you that once a gatekeeper assumes the top spot, the time available to pen a 650-750 word column - aside from unsigned editorials which often run shorter - is limited. Editors give up writing to wear many other hats, not least of which are those of parent, referee, arbiter, psychologist, coach, and dictator.
Jim admitted to not being much of the latter, as he put it, erring on the side of leniency.
But what is great about his new gig at the Eagle as part-time editor but full-time political reporter is that he’ll have come full circle to do what he loves best - to write.
As hard boiled as he’d like everyone to think he is, Jim is a true gentleman and a kind soul. Unlike many of his ideologically driven contemporaries, he gave everyone - right, left, center - a voice on his pages, even those with whom he vehemently disagreed. While criticism of the profession swirls around objectivity, transparency and accuracy, Jim embraced its highest calling: Fairness.
Jim only had one pet peeve. He never wanted to be mentioned by name in a column while he was editor. So now that he’s not, I get to gush it.
A few years ago, I was digging through a shoe box and came across a literary journal from the 1990s. In it was a short story by James Therrien, described in his bio as a reporter for the North Adams Transcript, who also was working on a novel with a 1960s theme.
If Jim’s novel is somewhere gathering dust in a closet, I’m hoping he digs it up, brushes it off, and gets back to it. That short story was beautifully composed; I suspect, as Hemingway might have, that Jim bled words onto those pages, in much the way he can now let the guard down, revealing a true writer within.
Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist.