Remembering my first editor

By Michael Raffety

12-5-11

Thirty-five years ago in my last year at San Francisco State University I had a poster printed up of my best photos and sent out query letters to every newspaper in the Pacific Northwest. On spring break I got interviews in Bellingham and Longview, Wash., at Pendleton and Medford, Ore., even though I mistakenly addressed the letter to the Mall Tribune instead of the Mail Tribune. None of these really resulted in a job, though they all were impressed with my folded poster résumé printed on good quality coated stock.

I got my first job when a friend told me there was a going-away party for the photographer at the Daily Democrat in Woodland, who was going on the professional bowling circuit. Editor Bill Duncan was so impressed with my poster résumé that he hired me for $3.65 an hour, 15 cents more than the minimum wage.

It was an exciting summer. I did a photo series of people who worked in Woodland after midnight. Each profile was a mini interview, which the next day Bill would bring to me with lots of red marks. I appreciated him taking the time to help me improve my writing and grammar.

The paper was owned by Ken Leake, who inherited it from his father. Ken had the front office, so whenever anyone came in thinking they ought to have their picture taken, he called for me. The best example of this was the young boy that got a top hat and magic kit with cards for his birthday. He and his buddy came in and I was called to take their photo. That was pretty hokey as far as I was concerned, but I got the kids to make a funny face and it turned out to be a pretty decent photo. Much better than the duo who wanted a photo to publicize their upcoming board meeting. I wasn’t going to take a dual mug shot, so I had them hold a short 2×4 under their chins. You can only do that once, and thank goodness I only had to do it once.

Bill’s office was in the back of a depressingly green wide hallway that constituted the newsroom. The people I remember the most from the newsroom were Joyce Krieg, Mario Dianda and George Thurlow and the night editor, Ed Goodykoontz whose appearance was pale and yellowish. The other person was Gary Traynham, the sports editor for life. I even met him at one of the last Apple Hill Media Picnics at least five years ago and he was still sports editor. He is an institution in town, with his brother enshrined in the Woodland High Hall of Fame.

Joyce, who was always working nights to write up a school board meeting, got her FCC license and joined the news operation at KFBK Radio and is now a published novelist.

Mario Dianda later was editor of the Oakland Tribune, but is now executive editor of the Daily News in Palo Alto. George Thurlow became editor of the Chico News and Review and then publisher for 12 years of the Santa Barbara Independent.  But in 2006 he was named vice chancellor for alumni affairs and executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Alumni Association.

After Bill Duncan retired in late summer of 1977, an editor who had been canned at another paper took over. He looked like Moammar Gadhafi and was observed patting the paste-up girls on their behinds. Not a sterling example of an editor.

I moved on from there to the Amador Progress-News in Ione and the Amador Ledger in Jackson. The Ione paper lost its name later in mergers, but the Ledger lives on as the Ledger-Dispatch. That’s a story for another day. The news editor, Doug Ernst, went on the become editor of the Napa Register. The sports editor left to write non-fiction books. David Darlington has six listed under his name at Amazon.com.

I came to work at the Mountain Democrat in October 1978. Later I happened to be in Woodland or Davis and looked at the Daily Democrat. By the time I saw it again the Leake family had sold it to Don Rey Media, a vampire type of newspaper conglomerate. They would buy up papers like the Woodland Daily Democrat, suck all the money out of them and the community would be left with a hollow shell. The paper looked absolutely awful. I had done newspaper and magazine design in college and had redesigned the Mountain Democrat. What the Don Rey chain did to the Woodland paper was a visual horror, especially the wide use of red as a spot color on the front page. And the news content and writing were totally mundane.

I mention this because Bill Duncan died Nov. 18. He pulled out of his driveway west of Roseburg, Ore., and was hit on the driver’s side by a pickup truck. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the story in the News-Review of Douglas County, Ore. Bill Duncan was 82.

Bill had come to the Daily D after being city editor of the Long Beach Press-Telegram. His career spanned 27 years. A native of Georgia, he served eight years in the Marines, serving in both World War II and the Korean War.

Upon his retirement he served 15 years as director of the Douglas County American Red Cross. In 1984 the News-Review hired him in 1984 to edit a monthly senior section. He also wrote weekly columns and book reviews, according to the article by Don Jenkins. He also wrote a biweekly column for a Salem-based agricultural paper called Capital Press.

“The thing about Bill’s writing is that it wasn’t so much what he was writing about, but how he wrote about it, which is a sign of a good columnist. He could probably write about asparagus and make it entertaining,” said Capital Press Managing Editor Carl Sampson.

Duncan was a volunteer coordinator for the VA hospice and was on his way to speak to a dying Marine veteran at the Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Bill was my first editor. I had no idea he had been a Marine, let alone spent eight years in the Corps. I remember him as intense but calm at the same time. Looking back 34 years I think I picked up a few things from Bill Duncan besides just cleaning out some grammatical cobwebs.

That is not the end of the story about the Daily D. The evening before Thanksgiving I was in San Francisco at a military club I belong to and got to talking to the person next to me at the bar. He had recently retired after 15 years as a legislative analyst in Sacramento for the University of California Chancellor’s Office. But before that he had worked for newspapers. In fact, Alan J. Fishleder was the last editor of the Woodland Daily Democrat before Don Rey Media took it over.  Even then he knew Bill Duncan, whom the News-Review said had been editor of the Daily Democrat “in the 1970s.” He was shocked to hear of his death. This made a full circle for me, from Duncan to the last non-chain editor of the Daily Democrat.

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