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My life’s work

Don Rogers

Who are you? Or the variant, What do you do? Invariably, a form of the question is asked when we meet someone new.And invariably, the answer goes something like this: I’m the father of … . Or I’m the son of … I’m a student. I’m a teacher. Police officer, banker, waiter. Sometimes we aren’t what we do, but what we strive for. I’m an actor, I’m an author, I’m an artist. Even if my big break is yet to come, even if I haven’t written that book yet. It boils down to clan and job, depending on who asks and where.Who are you? As with How are you, the answer is not a dissertation. Just a word: fine, great, OK or maybe for a trusted friend with patience and a little time to spare, terrible! Who are you? Asked at a cocktail party, this is not a philosophical question. And yet our one-word or one-sentence answer says it all. Interests, income, intelligence, personality. Amazing.But I am a little philosophical. Who am I? What do I do? Now that can stump me. It can raise the real question, with just enough Guinness: What’s your purpose?If you are a mother, what you do is look after your children. If that is your answer to my question, well, suddenly I know a boatload about you, your priorities and your sense of purpose. I do think that generally women have their heads on straighter than men.Ask the question of men away from Little League or the classroom and you learn quickly that their highest purpose is building things, fixing things, selling things, buying things and often enough aspiring to greater things. Oh yeah, they’ve got kids, too.I get it. I’m the same way, to a fault. My two children’s mother loves them no more than their father does, but it’s a more active love, burning brightly right at the core of her being, all mothers’ beings that I can tell. Of course, sometimes I’m told that Mom doesn’t have two children, but three. And that third one ain’t the most mature of the lot.If I don’t quite dread the question, I don’t look forward to it, either. Not from shame or embarrassment or anything like that. My paper and my family both do me proud, and I most often hear great things about my kids and my baby the paper, even with their all-too-human flaws. In this valley, the paper is seemingly everyone’s baby, so there’s often plenty to talk about. I don’t mind. My sense of a community paper is that it doesn’t belong to me so much as to you. So I love hearing your thoughts, since I look at feedback very much as guidance.Nah, my reluctance to answer the who-are-you question fits more with how I view my role in our tiny High Country civilization. Like the aspiring actor or artist, I define myself not by my daily job but what I strive for. I see myself less as “newspaper editor” than “social critic.” The two are nearly the same thing, especially at dinky papers where the editor must also write, among a host of other chores that are split into specialties in the factory-sized newsrooms. You also are much, much better acquainted with the leaders you cover as well as the actual people among the readership at community papers. The overwhelming majority of readers don’t know when their big paper has got it wrong. Here, well, everyone knows – and will line up to tell you.By “critic,” I don’t mean to define it as merely blasting this and blasting that. Challenging leaders and expressing disapproval of wrongheaded decisions certainly is part of every newspaper editor’s role. But I see the term positively, too, like film critic or restaurant reviewer. I mean, sometimes you say something nice.My ambition to be a little more than I am right now dovetails with my aspirations for the Vail Daily. I believe that the future for newspapers is to evolve from essentially lectures behind podiums about events and political issues to conversations in the crowd about all that and oh yeah, real life, too. Our pressure on reporters is to not settle for what comes out of meetings and what the decision-makers decide, but also to show how all that affects the community and what “regular” folks think about it. And to craft their coverage into real stories with those “regular” folks as the central characters they really are. The protagonists, if you will. Off-shoots of that are finding ways in our Commentary section for regular folks to express their views, too. Hence the phone call-in forum Tipsline and Web comment feature that purists and establishment types so disdain. Funny thing, though, there’s good reason these features are so widely read and participation is high, even if the authors don’t care to declare who they are. We certainly know what they think, especially about topics they are not supposed to be thinking about. Low as that sometimes is, it’s invaluable to understanding who we really are.This nudges at why as “social critic,” I prefer being incognito, a spy I suppose. All writers are spies anyway. Everything is fodder for our work. If my pallette and canvas don’t stop at politics and events, but aim to capture some of real life, well, the observer never stops taking it all in. If you don’t know who I am, or more likely, you forget, so much the better for my field studies – for my paper and for my writing. This switch never quite turns all the way off.So my wife has it right with her periodic accusation. Who am I? Workaholic might indeed be the most apt answer. This job is bound so close to breathing air, to living life.Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 600, or editor@vaildaily.com. Vail, Colorado


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