Brian L. Gray: You gotta roll with the changes
I was a bit of a troublemaker when I was younger. I know – hard to believe. How is it possible that this seemingly harmless redhead in the adjoining photo with the wry smile that borders on a giddy laugh, who writes with such a tender timbre and calm reserve, used to get himself into any trouble back in the day?
I was relatively harmless, as I never started fires or fights, but I did my share of recklessness that would inspire an admirable thumbs up from a fully committed hoodlum.
Back in junior high a handful of friends and I would often walk downtown and shop after school. And by shop I mean we would terrorize the stores in Mandan, which included messing around with anything we could get our hands on. One time while in Ben Franklin we were screwing around in the one cent candy section – back when those actually existed – when one of us knocked over an entire row of the candy, spilling it out all over the aisle. While we laughed and joked that there was thirty cents worth of a mess on the floor, the store’s manager approached us for the third time since we’d been there to tell us she’d had enough of us. She pushed us all toward the door as she said, “You guys get out of here. And don’t come back. You’re not allowed in here anymore.”
And she meant it. A few weeks later another worker remembered our faces as we attempted to return and told us to leave. We tried a month later with the same result. It was official – we were banned from Ben Franklin.
That was the last time I ever stepped into that building.
That was, until the day I interviewed for a reporter position with the Mandan News in 2006, which at the time was located in the back section of the old Ben Franklin. I got the job and just like that, I was allowed back into the Ben Franklin building. Not only that, I was being paid to be there.
Two years later I was made the editor, and I often laughed about that day I was banned from the store. “And who says Mandan isn’t changing,” I’d say to myself. Once again I felt like a kid at a candy store. Only this time around I wasn’t trying to spill the candy – I was trying to do everything I could before I got kicked out again.
That phrase became my mantra of sorts as I did this job. I wanted to document the changes that were happening in Mandan and keep readers up to speed on how this community is constantly evolving.
Now it’s time for me to make a change. This is my last week with the paper. After five years as your editor, two years before that as a reporter, I’m moving on.
Strange as it is to admit, I grew up in Mandan with a romantic view of journalists. Each week I used to lie on the ground of my living room and read the Mandan News front to back when I was a kid, admiring the work the reporters and columnists did. I held them up with high esteem, and looked up to them as champions of honorable work for keeping their readers informed on what was going on in their community. Their work amazed, and unnerved, me. How did they handle the pressures each week of creating stories, dealing with deadlines, and coping with the blowback and vitriol they sometimes received in response to their stories? Those people hung themselves out there, and dared to stand out in a creative and informative way. They were being adventurous in their own community. It had a sort of carnal edge with a civilized tone to it. I loved it, and I feared it.
And here I am. I dared to step into those shoes. I never meant to become a journalist or an editor, I really just stumbled into it. But I handled it in the best way I knew how, and I truly enjoyed it. Most of it.
Now that I’ve been an editor, a part of me wants to go back and tell that young kid who read the paper so studiously years ago that he will one day take a chance and dare to try what fears him, and that it will be nowhere near as scary as it appears to him. That the reward will prove to be worth the risk. That all he’ll really need to do to handle the pressures of the job is to be open, and willing to listen and learn. And that he’ll one day learn he cared so much about that community paper because it keeps the spirit of positive journalism alive and doesn’t overwhelm a reader with tragedies or disasters. It reminds us why we survive as a species – because of the good things in life.
Times are always changing, and you never really know how they’re going to change. You just have to roll with it in order to survive and endure.
That’s something I heard once from a personal hero of mine. This town has provided me with many of those, ones that I continue to look up to with admiration. People who have inspired and motivated me to better myself, and helped steer me in the direction of where I belong. They were teachers, neighbors, friends, bosses, strangers, even customers I delivered Bismarck Tribune papers to back when I was 13 and working for the same company I work for now.
This is the town I cherish. I was born and raised here, and I carry many memories with me that took place here. With all its good and bad, I love this town. It’s given me a lot, and I’ve been happy to give a little back.
And no matter where I may stumble in the future, it will always be home to me.
I’ll see you around.