Editorial: Media Legend Leaves Legacy for Countless Journalists
By Brandi Makuski
Local media legend George Rogers passed away Monday at the age of 85.
By the time I met him in the early 2000’s, he’d already forgotten more about the news business than most journalists today- including myself- will ever know.
“Things can get pretty rough,” he told me about the news business during our only- and passing- meeting during a visit to the Stevens Point Journal newsroom. “Don’t ever let it get you down.”
I watched him walk around the room, chatting up the news staff, shaking hands with longtime photographers Doug Wojcik and Tom Kujawski, and while the three men together oozed experience and knowledge, Rogers never excluded the younger, less experienced crowd in the room.
What struck me was his instantly noticeable charm and affability. He didn’t strike me as the type of fellow hardened by years of covering news, and belied every stereotype I’d had at that time of a newsman from his generation. He was inoffensive and fatherly. There was no disheveled look, no apparent sense of disillusionment or of being overburdened with work. He didn’t appear stressed- you might’ve thought he had just played a relaxing round of golf, though I later came to learn that was his natural state. He was good natured and relaxed- and he smiled.
Rogers knew what he was talking about. He’d worked his way up the chain at the Journal, first as a news reporter and columnist, then editor, and eventually publisher. He later went on to help found the Portage County Gazette- knowing full well the power his former employer, the newly- corporate owned Stevens Point Journal, carried in the community. The weight of that risk and courage behind that move has been rarely appreciated, and could easily have turned belly- up without the hard work by Rogers and others at the Gazette.
His efforts helped the Gazette through those difficult first years, and it continued to grow despite increased competition for local advertising dollars.
One reason why it worked was because Rogers had the pulse of the community, something which only enhanced his expansive knowledge of local events and history. He made no secret of loving the Stevens Point Area he was born in but had no problem shining a light on its flaws. When it came to local government he understood the necessity of informed consent, and in the rarest of newsman qualities, he trusted his readers to judge the risks and benefits based on the information he provided in his articles.
Even after he retired from the Gazette, he continued to write a weekly column for that paper. His interest in the outdoors frequently outshone most other topics, and he was a reader favorite until his last byline.
He thrived in a world without modern technology which today’s journalists rely on for the sharing of information and transition of news: social media, texting, smartphones and email. All he needed to report the news were the archaic tools of the trade- a pad and pencil.
Throughout his career he inspired countless other news reporters, myself among them.
He was a product of his generation; one that celebrated intelligence, hard work and success. In a business where reporters rarely last more than 3 years at the same publication, Rogers wrote only for the Journal and Gazette during his lifetime.
The world of journalism became a better place because of George Rogers. His patience and mentoring nature created a standard for journalists which is rarely met in modern media, and I think he knew this to be so during our passing meeting a decade ago. Each time I recall the words he spoke to me- a nobody intern in the far corner of the newsroom- I realize his advice is so simple and perfect in its meaning it had universal applications- even to his passing.
“Things can get pretty rough. Don’t ever let it get you down.”