42 years with the H-T: Many NCAA tourneys, fires and floods, and changes in newspapers

·7 min read

"Some days you get the bear; some days the bear gets you. But every day, it's a different bear."

Way back when The Herald-Times was called The Herald-Telephone, editor Bill Schrader used that expression in explaining why working on a daily newspaper never gets old.

I've been in the business almost 50 years now and it's still exciting most days, but the pace has become more wearing. So this weekend I'm hanging up the metaphorical green visor I first put on as editor of my high school paper and starting a new phase of my life.

My professional career began right after high school graduation in 1973. I worked summers as a reporter, photographer and general vacation fill-in at The Herald-Press in Huntington while earning a journalism degree at Ball State University. Following gigs at Fortville and Franklin papers involving news and sports work, I wound up at the H-T in 1980 and have worked here ever since, mostly as a behind-the-scenes copy editor, page designer and manager.

I was involved with many memorable stories over the years. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the office at the right times to help produce the only two H-T "extras" of the era — one announcing the 1999 murder of Korean Indiana University graduate student Won-Joon Yoon by a white supremacist, the other rushing out news of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. I spent plenty of time on the follow-up coverage about both incidents, but we may never see another extra.

Artifacts unearthed when Bob Zaltsberg retired after 33 years with The Herald-Times include two extras I didn't get the chance to work on.
Artifacts unearthed when Bob Zaltsberg retired after 33 years with The Herald-Times include two extras I didn't get the chance to work on.

Big local stories I did have a hand in editing and/or presenting on the H-T's front pages included many Indiana University NCAA basketball and soccer successes, high school sports championships, the firing of IU coach Bob Knight, near-riots linked to Little 500 parties and IU NCAA championships, elections, tornadoes, floods, fires and plane crashes.

There were also major ongoing stories, about PCB pollution, the loss of RCA/Thomson and other large local factory employers, the growth of Cook Group and founder Bill Cook's widespread impact on the region, John Mellencamp's rise to musical stardom, the extension of I-69 through the area, the struggle to address homelessness, the COVID-19 pandemic and Bloomington's growth from the sleepy college town preserved in 1979's "Breaking Away" to today's more developed city.

Look back: Artifacts unearthed through Bob Zaltsberg's office cleanup

From the early years, I particularly remember working with a group of editors who were struggling to find a way to present the news of President Ronald Reagan being wounded by a would-be assassin on the same front page that heralded IU's 1981 NCAA men's basketball championship — it was a designer's nightmare, but a solution was found.

Indiana’s Ray Tolbert cradles the NCAA championship trophy following the Hoosiers’ 63-50 win over North Carolina in the 1981 championship game in Philadelphia.
Indiana’s Ray Tolbert cradles the NCAA championship trophy following the Hoosiers’ 63-50 win over North Carolina in the 1981 championship game in Philadelphia.

Since 2019 I have been the No. 2 leader of the H-T's newsroom, doing editing and planning, providing institutional knowledge and continuity, and generally being a utility player as the newsroom went through four different editors/news directors in the wake of longtime editor Bob Zaltsberg's retirement.

The pace of change over the past few years has been head-spinning, including the paper's sale to GateHouse Media/Gannett, COVID's impact and cutbacks in staffing, but I believe I am leaving the paper in good hands with current News Director Jill Bond and her staff. They are dedicated to seeing the H-T continue to adapt and thrive in the digital age.

There are many reasons I've stayed at the H-T for nearly 42 years, including the wonder that is Bloomington and the technological and business model changes that have kept me constantly learning, essentially starting a new job several times.

But the main reason is the wealth of talented, caring colleagues I have had the honor to work beside, people who saw the work not just as a job but as a calling. The reporters, photographers, editors, designers and those working in other departments were dedicated to serving the community, and those currently on staff are as well.

Meet The Herald-Times staff.

If I started naming four decades of my H-T family, I'd go on forever and still leave many people out. But special thanks to Zaltsberg for many years of mentorship and support, to fellow Huntington native Bob Hammel, who quietly set the bar for great writing and insanely hard work, and to Barb Ralls, who hired me (along with Schrader) for a copy desk job and became a dear friend and my work Siamese twin until her retirement a few years ago.

Newsroom jobs don't pay a lot. Most people who stay in the field are more like social service workers than business moguls — they strive to produce compelling, difference-making journalism for their communities and idealistically hope their work will draw enough readership and revenue to keep them employed.

The current H-T news staff is a small but mighty mix of talented journalists, some veteran, others recently out of college, who are all working hard for you.

In just the past year, we have kept you informed about Bloomington's annexation attempt, the rise in local gun violence, concerns about health care costs, the jump in home prices, the impact of COVID, the challenges faced by unhoused people, a major flash flood, worker shortages, candidates for local public offices and more. We've also covered Indiana University and high school sports, the local food and entertainment scenes and provided photos and feature stories that introduced you to interesting events and people in our community.

Despite that, some of you are mad "the paper isn't what it used to be," and don't like being told to spend more time reading the H-T's news online, where we can give you more content much faster and it doesn't get wet in the driveway. Hard-copy newspapers have a special tactile and visual appeal, and you don't want it reduced. I understand that. For decades I put blood, sweat and angst into designing and editing those print pages for you, working late nights and weekends and holidays to get news to you in a timely fashion.

More: Why subscribe to The Herald-Times? Here are 5 reasons

The decision to emphasize our digital product is driven by the news-consuming public, not us. We would still be focused on the print newspaper if thousands more people were still buying it every day, reading articles, clipping coupons and shopping at large local stores like the now-defunct Macy's and Kmart and Marsh that were buying big in-paper ads. But as more and more readers and potential readers have shifted to getting their news and advertising on their computers and phones, and doing a lot of their shopping on the internet, we have been forced to move to where the masses now live.

I'm known in the newsroom for being pretty blunt — apparently some new reporters have been scared of me initially because of my penchant for yelling at reporters across the newsroom while on deadline to quickly clear up problem points in stories. I often prioritize efficiency over the social graces, but I'm a softie on the inside — really.

So please forgive me when I tell you that if you haven't joined the digital age, you have your head in the sand. It's like if someone in my youth was still totally focused on radio for entertainment when everyone else was watching TV. Computers aren't newfangled things — I've been working on one since I was 25, and at 66 I get most of my news on a computer at work or on my phone on the go. Even my father and stepmother, who would be 100 if they were still alive, used computers in their retirement years, although not fluently.

Like it or not, you can't stop change — you need to keep adapting, and so does your newspaper. The H-T will continue producing print editions as long as it is economically feasible. We like them, too. But the internet is where future readers can be reached, and where my colleagues will have to focus to keep The Herald-Times viable in the decades ahead.

The good news is HeraldTimesOnline.com continues to improve, offering you more news, features and sports than ever before, both locally and from Gannett affiliates across the state and the country.

In the coming months you may still see my byline on photos running with my wife Carolyn VandeWiele's freelance Food Fare columns. But otherwise it's now time for me to catch up on personal projects and find new ways to serve the community I have long loved.

I wish the H-T staff good luck as they continue the important work of a free press.

This article originally appeared on The Herald-Times: Newsroom mainstay Janice Rickert retiring after nearly 42 years at H-T