Things were different back in 1999.
The Internet was still a relatively new thing for most of us. A cellphone was only good for one thing: Making a phone call, and – depending on your location – it often wasn’t good for that. I was thin, had hair and was still new to the journalism business.
I was a sports writer for a smaller local paper and my editor asked me to attend a job fair at Pitt-Johnstown. Since I barely knew what I was doing, it seemed a little strange to me to be attending as a representative of the paper, but I was told that I should be able to relate to the attendees, as I was fresh out of college. It seemed plausible, although I later came to realize that I probably got the gig because no one else at the paper wanted it.
No matter, I probably got more out of that job fair than any other attendee.
It was there that I first met Bruce Wissinger. He was then, as he is today, the editor of the editorial page for The Tribune-Democrat. When I realized that my seat at the job fair was right next to a respected, veteran journalist from a much bigger paper, it was a little intimidating. I was just a young sports writer and he had been in the business longer than I had been alive.
He could very easily have turned his nose up at me and gone about his day without so much as a cursory “hello.”
But that’s not his way. He, along with Arlene Johns, who would go on to become the city editor of The Tribune-Democrat and later, editor of Johnstown Magazine, couldn’t have been nicer. They welcomed me with open arms.
I probably asked more questions that day about the business and how it worked than any of the students who stopped by our table. Bruce handled them all with confidence and honesty. He also asked questions about me, my background and my role in journalism. He seemed to take a real interest in me.
A few months later, The Tribune-Democrat hired me as a copy editor. Apparently I had made a bit of an impression on Bruce as well.
I didn’t have much interaction with him over the next decade or so. I moved from the copy desk to sports editor, but still retained the same nighttime hours that meant I was rarely in the office at the same time as he was.
Even so, I respected him. He always seems cool, calm and collected.
It wasn’t until 2012 that I really got to know him. That’s when the editor position opened at The Tribune-Democrat.
Bruce was the logical choice. He’d been there for years, was well-respected inside and outside of the newsroom and could handle the pressures of the job.
But, being close to retirement age, he wasn’t interested in it. He agreed to serve as the interim editor, but fully supported my bid for the full-time job.
That was important, because I knew that I would need his counsel on a number of issues. And I have. I seem to ask for his opinion or advice on something almost every day.
Few readers understand how big an asset he’s been to our newspaper, but those of us who work here do.
He’s always well-prepared for our editorial board meetings, whether we’re interviewing a political candidate or discussing what we’re going to write about in the coming week. He can turn out a flawless editorial taking county officials to task in no time flat and can just as quickly put together a thoughtful, engaging piece about the plight of our city.
He’s been the voice of experience and wisdom in the newsroom, and, as the editorial page editor, he’s often been the voice of the newspaper itself.
His insight and abilities will be sorely missed, but he’s more than earned the right to retire and ride off into the sunset on his Harley-Davidson.
Good luck, Bruce, and safe travels.
Eric Knopsnyder is the editor of The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at Twitter.com/Eric_Knopsnyder.