In an age of Facebook and cell phone cameras, of instant Web updates and news traveling faster than the speed of Twitter, old-school journalists are becoming rarities. And there is one less in the world this week after career reporter and editor Doug Fletcher passed away Wednesday in Massachusetts.
The 62-year-old Fletcher had gone there to be close to his daughter, Darcy, and his three grandchildren as he was being treated for cancer. Before that, he had spent the past 12 years as an editor at the Sun Journal where he also reported on everything from business to breaking news.
Colleagues on Thursday were mourning not just the passing of a friend but the passing of an era in news.
"He was my favorite curmudgeon and a newsman to his soul," said Carol Coultas, a former Sun Journal editor and business reporter. "I'll never forget when I interviewed him for the copy editor's position and he brought his dog to the interview. I liked him right off."
Those who worked with or for him agree: Doug was just the right amount of grizzled and affable. He could tell a joke, guide a struggling reporter through a story and tackle breaking news on deadline without a single bead of sweat on his brow.
"He was one of the pickiest editors I've known since my first newspaper job 36 years ago," said former Sun Journal City Editor David Griffiths. "He'd approach reporters — and city editors — with a smile and a lame joke or two, but you always knew he was going to point out some flaw in what you thought was clean copy. And I honestly don't remember a time when he was wrong. Aggravating, particularly on deadline, but highly professional."
"He was a true newsman," said co-worker Heather McCarthy. "He could get real upset about something and he'd be over there huffing and snorting. Then like that, he was over it. You'd hear him laughing."
Not much could rattle him. After all, news in its various forms was something Fletcher had been dealing with since the 1960s when he worked — right out of high school — as an editor and reporter at a pair of newspapers in his home state of Massachusetts. He served for a time as city editor at the Fitchburg Sentinel, at one time getting a scoop from a congressman about the move to impeach President Richard Nixon.
Shortly after, Fletcher was off to Maine where he became editor of the weekly newspaper The Moosehead Messenger in Greenville and later, at the Houlton Pioneer.
Fletcher not only worked in Aroostook County for a decade, he became a part of it. Though he moved south to the "big city" of Lewiston in 1996, Fletcher kept a camp in The County and was hiking or kayaking whenever he got a chance.
"Doug always loved company when he played outdoors, but you could always tell from the smile on his face that he felt something much more personal when he sat in the woods or beside a river," said Sun Journal photographer Daryn Slover, who hiked, camped and kayaked with Fletcher.
"I will always remember Doug being the last one to catch up with the group while paddling down a river. He would not be flailing around on the water like the rest of us — he would be sitting with a smile, paddle across his lap, beverage between his legs and just drifting along as happy and carefree as could be.
"I always remember Doug being the last one to come in from the deck each evening at camp," Slover said. "He seemed to always take a few extra moments for himself even if the bugs were getting bad. No black fly ever interrupted Doug's love for being outdoors."
Around the year 2000, after tackling crime and courts at the Sun Journal, Fletcher and reporter Kathryn Skelton were named as the paper's new business editors. It was the kind of shift — from the gritty crime beat to the more antiseptic world of business — that some reporters would find daunting.
"Doug was crusty and kind and everything in between," Skelton said. "He was a dogged reporter and editor; he could just grab onto a story and go with it."
His style was one of notebook and pen, McDonald's food on deadline and not just getting a story, but getting it right, in the role of both editor and reporter.
"Doug was a stickler for detail, always concerned about making the paper better for the readers. He certainly enjoyed the news business, and during his decades of reporting and editing, he had seen about every situation a paper confronts," said Pete Phelan, nighttime managing editor at the Sun Journal who worked directly with Fletcher. "He was a true pro — we could always count on him to get the job done, and he would tackle any story, any time. His co-workers are saddened by the news of his death, and we'll all miss him. The readers might not know it, but they'll miss his excellent work."
As a newsman, Fletcher was remembered as tenacious and determined, unwilling to let a potential story pass by. When whispers began in the community about the possibility of a Wal-Mart distribution center coming to Lewiston, Fletcher would not let go. He called city officials at all hours until he got someone to confirm the rumors.
"It was Christmastime and Doug was over at city hall every day, pigeon holing people for an answer," Coultas said. "The proverbial dog with a bone."
And like that, without Facebook, Twitter or any other Internet incarnation, Fletcher had what he always sought — news fit for print.
"That was Doug Fletcher," said Griffiths, the former city editor. "No self-respecting newsroom should be without a Doug Fletcher."
"He was just a great guy," said Skelton, Fletcher's former partner on the business beat. "And I'll miss him."