Arrow-right Camera

Color Scheme

Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Rob Curley: To have a Merry Christmas, sometimes you need to take a lesson from your mentors

The 2020 Christmas Card from The Spokesman-Review.  (Photo by Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

This is a story about mentors who inspire, rules that need to be broken and simple delight from a surprise gift.

These are just a few of the lessons learned from a life spent in newsrooms across the country. From the moment you declare your love for journalism, you’re told to now question everything. The unofficial motto for generations of journalists has been, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”

When it came to finding facts and cutting through the crap, the people I looked to so often for guidance – newspaper photo legend Bill Snead and longtime Orange County Register editor Ken Brusic – were fearless truth seekers. Yet it was their humanity that made their message resonate most with me. In an industry driven by people paid to be cynical, they were inherently hopeful.

They were the exact opposite of “If it bleeds, it leads.” Both despised stories of bodybags or bureaucracy. Heck, on my first day at The Orange County Register close to a decade ago, when Brusic handed me my job description, it reaffirmed these beliefs. It was a quote from Will Durant and was like nothing the Human Resources department had seen …

“Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things that historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.”

He then told me my job was to cover the banks.

Bill Snead’s lessons were similar: We have to do the basics well, we have to tell people what happened in our town, what it means and what it looks like – but, at the end of the day, what readers remember the most in their daily newspaper are the things that surprise and delight them. He called them “serendipitous gifts.”

That’s where today’s edition of The Spokesman-Review comes in. 

For the fifth Christmas in a row, we have wrapped our newspaper with a Christmas card to our readers. The biggest mass-produced Christmas card you’ve seen. Just like Brusic did at the Orange County Register for that paper’s Dec. 25th edition … and I continued to do when he left me the keys to that editor’s office.

The amount of thought and effort that goes into these photos is staggering. Of course, it helps when your newspaper has a world-class photo staff, like at both The Spokesman-Review and Orange County Register. Just look at that photo on the front page, again! Eat your heart out, Hallmark.

It’s the planning, and the stories behind those photos, that also make me think of my mentors. When serving your readers, rules (and laws, I guess) are kind of just guidelines – as long as no one gets hurt, nothing gets broken and police Chief Craig Meidl’s men and women don’t see you do it.

Setting a small fire on the Centennial Trail like we did in 2016 for our Christmas photo is strongly discouraged. Or possibly against the law, depending on who you ask.

But that photo was awesome, right? People still talk about it and share it every holiday.

Flying a drone over downtown Spokane while a window cleaner dressed as Santa climbs the most iconic newspaper clocktower in the nation is a bit of a gray area. Well, until you ask the Federal Aviation Administration or the Office of Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

They see things a little more black and white than I do. And I totally blame my mentors for that.

This year’s photo is meaningful in a different way. No laws were broken. But that’s not why it will be remembered.

2020 was not good. On so many levels.

Just as multiple national publications began noticing that Spokane had one of the best and most interesting food scenes in the country, COVID crippled it – just like it did to so many other things that make this place great.

For some, like the Wandering Table in the Kendall Yards neighborhood, the financial toll was too devastating to continue.

Yet, many local chefs and their great restaurants are still hanging on. Even hopeful. All while continuing to cook fantastic food – as long as we support them, that is.

That’s what makes this year’s Christmas cover so special. Look a little closer. Santa and Mrs. Claus are making a meal for the ages. They also happen to look a whole lot like Chad White, owner of multiple great local restaurants, and Celeste Shaw, owner of the beloved Chaps Diner and Bakery.

Like so many other local restaurant owners, they are one of our community’s many gifts. And the best gifts are those that are appreciated long after they’re given, which is why we all need to make sure that those gifts survive what we’re all going through … especially during this holiday season.

So, can it be a surprise that our newspaper has now made itself into a big Christmas card five years in a row? Well, were you surprised when you saw it this morning?

I’ve seen that image so many times over the last couple of weeks and I know I was still surprised at what it meant to me and what it said as I looked at it time and time again.

That’s the lesson my mentors were trying to teach me: Being a newspaper editor doesn’t mean that you overlook the good, it means you remind people of all of the good, and even celebrate it … especially when they need it most.

And for the record, my mom loves me.

I double-checked.

Please have a Merry Christmas from all of us at The Spokesman-Review.

More from this author