“As a journalist in a newsroom, I never worried about how to write. I just did it. I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline.”
These words from Alexis Grant jumped out at me this morning. I’d left her blog up on my screen when I turned off the monitor late last night, intending to write her a comment, but today the words triggered a whole new chain of thought – about blogging and about my father, Wallace Lomoe, who was Managing Editor and later Executive Editor of The Milwaukee Journal. He inspired my love of writing, but more importantly perhaps, he passed on the perfectionistic standards that make me a ruthless editor of my own work. It’s appropriate to pay tribute to him on Father’s Day.
But first, about the blogging. Alexis was writing about the differences between journalistic writing and tackling an entire book, but “I put words on my computer screen to meet a deadline” is an apt description of my approach to blogging till now. A phrase or a few scattered ideas begin percolating in my mind. Sometimes I jot down some notes in my little blue blog book, but more often I sit down at the computer and lo and behold, the words begin to flow onto the screen. Basically, it’s the same way I go about writing a novel, except that with the novel, there’s an overall story arc that keeps me pointed in a more or less coherent direction. In blogging, I’ve been disregarding the bigger picture, and I’ve decided that has to change. But more on that in tomorrow’s post – today’s is about my father.
Wallace Lomoe was born in northern Wisconsin in 1898. In his youth, he
Library of Congress photo
dreamed of writing The Great American Novel. In search of background and inspiration, he spent most of the1920’s living the archetypal hobo’s life, riding the rails and doing odd jobs throughout the country. By 1928, he was back home, working as a reporter at The Superior Telegram, where two significant events occurred. He met my mother, Viola Wick, also a cub reporter at the Telegram. They married soon after, and as was all too typical back then, she abandoned her career to become a wife and mother. And Calvin Coolidge spent a summer fishing in northern Wisconsin. The Telegram assigned my father to cover the President’s vacation, both because of his writing skills and because he was an ace fisherman and northwoods guide. His stories got picked up by the Associated Press, and The Milwaukee Journal offered him a job.
In the years that followed, he rose through the ranks from City Editor and Managing Editor to Executive Editor. Known as “the bear,” he inspired respect and fear in his underlings. Once a reporter who had just won a Pulitzer Prize came to him for a raise, and he refused, saying, “The Pulitzer has nothing to do with your salary.” Along the way, he abandoned his dream of writing The Great American Novel and ultimately destroyed a lengthy manuscript that would at the very least have made a marvellous memoir. Evidently the book didn’t live up to his own exacting standards.
My father’s memory lives on in the annals of journalism. Googling his name this morning, I found 273 hits, including one in a book I hadn’t known existed: Joe McCarthy and the Press by Edwin R. Bayley. My father was a staunch enemy of the witch-hunting senator, as evidenced in the following quote:
“We think McCarthy is a sideshow barker in dealing with the press,” said Wallace Lomoe, managing editor of the Milwaukee Journal. “First he drops a hint. Then he gives out a name. Third, he gives his version of what the name said or did. And the press carries all three.”
I’ve never seen this quote before, but discovering it delights me this morning, when I devoured our local Sunday paper in under an hour while bemoaning its pitiful contents. My father died in 1975, but if by some miracle he were reincarnated, what would he think of the state of journalism these days? He’d probably be shaking off the gloom and doom and focusing on mastering the internet, just as I am today.
The Milwaukee Journal merged with the Milwaukee Sentinel in 1995. The Journal was an afternoon paper, fiercely independent, whereas the Sentinel was a morning paper, part of the Hearst empire. In our family, “Hearst” was almost as dirty a word as “McCarthy.” The Journal Sentinel now publishes mornings, and the Journal’s glory days are long gone.