Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Working In Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood: A Remembrance

(My former editor at the Canarsie Courier, with whom I worked for 15 years, died last week. This is how I’ll remember Charles “Chuck” Rogers)
I was taken aback, but not surprised, last week when I learned that my former editor at the Canarsie Courier died. At times, Charles Rogers had been ill for weeks, as his health slowly declined, years before I left the weekly tabloid two summers ago.
Charles "Chuck" Rogers
Nevertheless, we kept in touch through occasional e-mails and on Facebook, where he surprisingly popped up about a year ago. That, in itself, was a shocker since Chuck was not technologically inclined, though he was not a technophobe. Like many of his generation, he was old school in this hi-tech age, though he gradually became comfortable, but not proficient, writing on PC’s, at home and at the office.
Though Chuck worked at the Courier for more than 20 years, I actually started there before him when I was hired fresh out of college in the late 1970s. I departed a few years later for a career in entertainment public relations. Chuck, you might say, filled my void several years later, though he came in as a veteran journalist and quickly adapted from national reporting for NBC News to covering crime, car accidents and fires to community meetings and local politics.
As a matter of fact, Chuck’s health afforded me the opportunity to return to the Courier in the mid-90s when he was down with pneumonia. At the time, I was between jobs and was hired to temporarily fill in until his return. The Courier’s recent college graduate reporter wasn’t capable of the task without Chuck’s guidance. Within a few hours after my return, it was easy to see why.
I had to thoroughly edit and rewrite his lead story for that week to make it suitable for publication. He had the basics, but was not a competent reporter.
The newcomer and I worked together for several weeks until Chuck returned, when the publisher asked me to stay on and gave notice to the young man.
So began a decade and a half alongside Chuck Rogers.  He did not have to mentor me, since I had honed my writing skills since my first Courier gig. However, every so often, he counseled me and made suggestions to enhance my reporting expertise, which I welcomed.
We worked exceptionally well together, covering as many breaking news and community events and meetings as the two of us were capable of handling. We rarely stepped on each other’s toes or competed for stories. As the managing editor and my immediate superior he usually got his pick of stories, but he knew he could rely on me to report and write an accurate story for any assignment.
Chuck’s domain was the police beat, which was no problem, since it didn’t appeal to me. Besides, he established a camaraderie with many cops from whom he plied details for stories. Depending on who was available to cover an area fire, he had first choice, having also established a solid relationship with some of Canarsie’s Bravest, but he often sent me to the scene of a blaze for details and photos. I did become the paper’s education reporter, covering most events in the local school district, though Chuck would occasionally cover District 18 schools, too.
Early on, we established a terrific working relationship. Even though he was my superior in experience and seniority he never acted like a conventional boss. Chuck never reminded me to cover an assignment. He knew what I was capable of and let me do my job without constantly looking over my shoulder.
Don’t get me wrong. Our relationship wasn’t flawless. We had disagreements, as reporters and editors often do, but, after a brief argument, we resolved them with respect and moved on.
After working with Chuck for a year or so, I asked him if I could write a weekly opinion column. He consented and I began my liberal-leaning “This Week’s Attitude” in the late 1990s that counterbalanced his more conservative “View from the Middle.” We were consistently on opposite sides of the political spectrum, except when it came to gun control and the New York Yankees. We passionately supported stronger gun restrictions and expressed our opinion in many columns over the years, often in the same week, but from a somewhat different point of view.
One thing’s for certain as the Canarsie Courier carries on, with its centennial anniversary less than a decade away; Chuck Rogers’ reporting, writing and presence have left a void for those who worked with and knew him and enjoyed his work for more than twenty years.
It goes without saying that Canarsie and the Courier WAS Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
Rest in peace, my friend, you earned it.