Two years ago, my friend James passed away. He was one of the nicest people that I have *ever* worked with, let alone in a newsroom, let alone a newsroom in Los Angeles. After his untimely and tragic death, a flurry of wonderful tributes were created by the people that knew him — colleagues, friends, strangers that became friends through social media — and each one had a lovely, touching story about how honestly kind and sweet he was. And the tributes and stories were not because he passed, but because he was just genuinely great. The rare gem of a human who didn’t have agenda, wasn’t pushing you aside to get ahead, wasn’t befriending you to see who you knew. Nope, just a person who honestly liked other people and wanted to see them succeed and be happy.
After reading the tributes to Roger Ebert in the past day, I am reminded of James and how he affected so many people for the better. In almost every story or anecdote that I have read about Mr. Ebert, the writer made a point to mention how kind and nice he was to them — especially when they were young and just starting out. A guy with a big name and a great talent who took the time to care, a TV star who wrote back to a child’s fan letter, a seasoned author who didn’t mind going off the record to give advice — real, encouraging advice — to a person in the same profession.
And while glowing stories of how a celebrity was smart and funny and actually nice to a lowly writer are hardly rare, finding those about a successful journalist who doesn’t tell a young fan to drop out of the field IMMEDIATELY are. And finding stories about a celebrity journalist who stays in touch with a nobody or supports their dreams is basically impossible. It’s like finding a unicorn… or a guy like James in a Los Angeles newsroom.
So the lesson (once again) is this: If you want to become immortal or just gloriously eulogized, be genuinely nice to writers.