I’ve gotten to the point in my journalism career where people I once worked with are showing up in the obits. One appeared there yesterday: Malcolm Glover, late cops reporter and rewrite man for The San Francisco Examiner. Here’s the story, which made print more than a week after his death. I didn’t know Malcolm well. I was usually in the position of sweating him on deadline for a short breaking story on something or other. But he went way back and did, as his obit suggests, seem to know everyone in the Police Department (we won’t go into the mixed blessing of that). His nickname was Scoop, though I never knew anyone in the newsroom to actually use that when addressing him.
How far back did he go. Again, as the obit says, back to the days when the paper was owned by William Randolph Hearst. Part of his legend and charm was the tale, which Malcolm didn’t need a lot of prompting to repeat, that his relationship with Hearst dated back to his childhood in the Northern California mill town of McCloud. As Malcolm told it, Hearst was at a general store in town. Malcolm, then a lad of 10 or so, held the door open for him. “The Chief” was so impressed with the lad’s good manners that he asked his name and, one thing leading to another, put him to work on the Hearst’s nearby estate, Wintoon. When Malcolm wanted to try working at one of Hearst’s papers, the old man got him a job as a photographer at The Monarch of the Dailies. Later, he switched to reporting, and outlasted scores of whipper-snappers and young hotshots. Includiing me.
I’m sure some of The Examiner people who worked with him longer have some great stories about him. I’d still love to hear them sometime.
From The New York Times site, where I first saw the news (The Rolling Stone site, which still lists Thompson as “national affairs desk,” doesn’t have an item posted yet):
DENVER (AP) — Hunter S. Thompson, the acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism in books like “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” fatally shot himself Sunday night at his Aspen-area home, his son said. He was 67.
“Acerbic counterculture writer who popularized a new form of fictional journalism.” Well, the AP’s got to play it straight. But I don’t think a description like that begins to touch what Thompson did. What do they mean, “books like ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas”? Fact is, there’s nothing like it. And what Thompson did wasn’t to popularize a new form of fictional journalism. He invented a new, sort of quasi-journalistic literary genre that challenged readers to figure out just what in it might reflect the writer’s experiences. The exercise was more to distill and intensify the reality he experienced. But no more stabs at explication and criticism from those ill-suited and unqualified to do it, like me.
The person I immediately thought of upon reading this news was Jay Johnson. Jay was one of the news editors at The San Francisco Examiner when Thompson was writing his column for the paper, and it often fell to him to be Hunter’s “editor” (he was just “Hunter” around the newsroom, though he was never there) — the person who would sweat in increasingly unquiet desperation as Hunter’s Sunday night deadline came and went. Hunter often (perhaps always, when it came to The Ex) communicated by fax. Back in the mid-80s, when Hunter’s Ex saga began, fax machines would accept and print out long scrolls, not neat single pages. And Jay would be the one who would get Hunter’s scroll. The column was typewritten, but it was usually preceded or accompanied by a long, scrawled personal note to Jay or maybe just an off-the-cuff diatribe to set the tone. Long after Hunter stopped writing the column, he’d still fax off his late night screeds to Jay. I sure hope he kept them. They’d be a minor (or, who knows in this world? — major) treasure.