The Richmond Register

Viewpoints

November 10, 2013

Life Lessons from lawyers, journalists and 10 years as a columnist

RICHMOND — “I did it for me. I liked it. I was good at it. And I was alive.”

— Walter White, the lead character in the television series Breaking Bad

“People you’ve got the power over what we do.”

— Jackson Browne

I have little in common with Walter White, the chemistry teacher turned drug lord in the TV series Breaking Bad, but the line about his motivation hit me.

In the decade that I wrote a weekly column, I touched a lot of lives.

At least one man stopped his planned suicide and got help after reading my column. (I still hear from him and he is doing fine.)

I’ve written things that have had a profound impact on various people in various ways.

The life lesson I’ve learned from the last 10 years is that I was the greatest benefactor of my writing. Like Walter, I liked it, I was good at it and it made me feel alive.

I’ve spent the last 31 years as a structured settlement consultant, working with trial attorneys. Great plaintiff attorneys have personalities much like my own. They are passionate about what they believe in, intensely loyal to their friends and clients, but they tend to be lone wolves and rarely practice in large firms.

Trial lawyers take on a lot of unpopular causes and powerful corporations. The only thing that allows them to survive is a sense of justice.

The other occupation that has the same personality characteristics as trial lawyers is journalism.

If you look at any list of unpopular professions, lawyers and journalists are usually at the bottom. Nurses win almost every year. My late mother was a nurse, and I cherish them, but someone needs to appreciate what trial lawyers and journalists bring to the table.

I’m not sure how I missed being a trial lawyer, but I am glad I got my 10 years in journalism.

Both professions have their publicity hounds and money grubbers. (As I write this, I am watching Ann Coulter who fits both categories). Both have their bad actors, but I have found many good people who are serious about making a difference.

I understand why most of my closest friends are lawyers and journalists, with political leaders taking the third position.

A life lesson is that we are motivated by people who hold the same values. Thus, trial lawyers and journalists will always be the people I am closest to.

The primary difference between trial lawyers and journalists is economic. Trial lawyers are small businesses and entrepreneurs. Some years are great, some years are terrible, but trial lawyers have faith in their abilities to produce results and keep on going back to work.

When I started writing my column, almost all journalists were employees of large, publicly traded corporations. As the profits for those corporations have gotten smaller, the number of journalists they employ has dropped dramatically. Some corporations “get it” and invest money in quality journalism. Many have taken the attitude of watering down the product, by cutting staff and avoiding controversial topics.

Another life lesson has been good timing. I found the right paper at the right time.

When I started, The Richmond Register was one of those few, if not the only, traditional news outlet that would allow a part time, but passionate journalist to write for them.

This column would not have happened if I had lived in a different city, and I am grateful to the people of Richmond and the people at the Register for giving me the opportunity.

Thank you.

As a student of Wall Street and with my toe in journalism, one of my frustrations is that many big newspaper chains did not “get” either world.

It is common for big chains to have “class A” and “class B” stock. This means that old families make all the business decisions, without fear of being replaced, even when all the brains and motivation were in a previous generation. The true owner, the stockholders, never have 100 percent ownership. The poor stock price for newspapers reflects that disconnect.

The bad news is that a lot of great journalists no longer have jobs in the field. The good news is that there are many new opportunities for people who embrace change and technology and have a message to share.

One of the reasons I am so excited about my book publishing business, RRP International Publishing, is that I see the opportunity for taking on the traditional publishing models run by people who are set in their ways.

I wrote the weekly column for me, but I was thrilled you have taken the time to listen to what I have to say.

One last life lesson. The American people are a lot smarter than those in Washington give them credit for. People have agreed and disagreed with me, but have shown great insights and intelligence when they did.

You’ll still be able to hear what I have to say, but just in different venues, like books and social media.

As the great disc jockey Alan Freed used to say, “This is good night. Not goodbye.”

Good night.

Don McNay’s “Greatest Hits: Ten Years as an Award-Winning Columnist” can be downloaded for free on Kindle today and the paperback is half off on Amazon.com.

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