In one of my darker moods at the News & Record, I told one of our editors that my legacy at the paper was bound to be: “He laid off dozens of journalists, and he created The Good Stuff.”
I am confident the former still remains, but I suspect the latter drops off the list. So, let me tell you about it.
The publisher had been bugging me about getting more “good news” in the paper. I didn’t disagree with him; we needed to tell the stories of the community, good and bad. I just didn’t have the people to spare to do it. (See aforementioned layoffs.)
I took this as opportunity to go to the crowd for help. I asked our readers to write about the good deeds that they saw or that they experienced. “Who better to report the good news than the people who experienced it themselves?” I told the publisher.
I believed that. I also believed that that would allow the journalists on the staff to work on other things. As the readers wrote in with particularly good stories, we’d cherry pick those and write them ourselves, I thought. As it turned out, we didn’t need to very often — readers wrote just fine.
We put a short three-paragraph blurb in the paper and got an immediate response. Readers told us about people paying it forward, about people helping to change a stranger’s flat tire, about people buying a meals for a couple of men in military uniforms, about a neighbor mowing the lawn of a friend who was ill. Sometimes they were sappy. Sometimes they made me tear up. Simple acts of kindness tend to do that.
Jennifer Burton, one of our page designers at the time, was asked to design a logo.
“What do you want to call it?” she asked me.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“How about Good Stuff,” she responded.
That is how great leadership works, people.
This was about 12 years ago. For a while, we had enough to run a standing Good Stuff story every day. It slowly ran out of steam, and now the columns are published sporatically, but they’re still alive.
And I would still be proud if they are part of my legacy.