Mark Binker, RIP

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It was an honor to be asked to speak at Mark Binker’s memorial service Friday. I struggled to find the right words. You can watch the entire service here. (Stay for Mason Binker’s comments about his father.) Here’s what I said, minus the comments about Mason, which were extemporaneous. You may also contribute to help Mark’s family.

I was Mark’s boss at the News & Record for 12 years.  So, all of you politicians who encountered Mark’s annoying questions, his refusal to go away, and his lack of respect for your evasions? I feel you. And that’s also one reason I loved Mark Binker.

We hired Mark for our bureau in High Point and he impressed us there so we brought him into the Greensboro newsroom, and then sent him to Raleigh.

When he left us to go WRAL in 2012, that really impressed me. Scruffy newspaper reporter tries out TV. Pretty gutsy career move.

By the way, pretty gutsy move by WRAL, too, Laura.

Mark was also my friend.

You know, the truth is, that in the editor-reporter relationship, the editors begin as the alpha-dogs, guiding the reporter along. The best reporters soon turn that around, and they become the leaders, telling the editor what’s what. That was Mark.

I’ve read many of the Facebook posts and blog entries about Binker. I’m pretty sure he’s up there chuckling over the praise he’s gotten from many of us. He always seemed to view journalism and politics with a good-natured side eye. But those blog posts and Facebook posts didn’t quite get to the reasons I loved Mark.

I loved Mark because he could be direct, sometimes painfully so. It wasn’t rudeness so much as it was journalistic impertinence. The best reporters have it.

I loved him because he could be funny, often snarky, but never mean-spirited.

He worked long, long hours, and if anyone from the Labor Department is here, we paid him time and a half for every one of those hours.

If he didn’t understand something or if you had information he wanted, he could nag you worse than a three-year-old wanting ice cream.

He suffered fools, not gladly, but he’d do it if it got him the story.

He was hugely intolerant — of frauds and fakers and BS.

Add up those characteristics and you have a journalist. He was a journalist with his whole being. He was a fact-finder and a truthteller.. He did it with courage and street smarts, with humor and integrity.

In these days when people demonize journalists, I have to say that Mark had that other characteristic that the best journalists have: he cared for you.

On June 6, 2007,  I laid off nearly three dozen good journalists in my newsroom. It took all afternoon and it crushed my soul and the soul of my newsroom. At about 6, I faced the staff to answer their questions. They were angry and sad and lost. So was I.

When it was over, people milled around in the newsroom, slicing and dicing what happened. Some went home and others went to work because that’s what we do. I was hollow inside. I went to my office, on the verge of tears.

After a few moments, Binker came in, leaned back against a bookcase across the way, and said, “So, that was fun, wasn’t it?”

He said it straight but he had that look — you all know it — and I burst out laughing. I know it sounds callous now, but it wasn’t then. It was exactly what I needed.

Then he said, “How are YOU doing, Boss?”

It was an incredibly kind gesture. I bet everyone in this room has a similar story.

Mason and Max, when you’re old enough, watch “The Paper” and “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” to see what your dad was like professionally.

Your father, he was the best of us.

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