I never worked with Shawn Soper, who passed away Wednesday night after suffering a serious illness. But I did know him, especially through his work for our competitor, the Maryland Coast Dispatch.
Although one of the cardinal rules of the news business at any level is never to give your competitor the benefit of your news space, it can’t be helped in this instance because Shawn had a major impact on this publication as well.
Generally, that impact would be expressed like this: “Shawn Soper had the story, so why didn’t you?”
I must have asked that question hundreds of times over the 23 years that Shawn worked on the other side of the aisle, so to speak.
The thing is, though, I knew the answer, as should have anyone who encountered Shawn on the job or counted his weekly bylines.
He was a non-stop working machine of the sort that used to populate the newsrooms of weekly newspapers back in what I call the old days.
My father was one of those people for nearly 50 years. I was probably 12 years old or so before I discovered that not everyone’s father had to go back to the office three nights a week, or had to go out to take a photo, or had to cover something on the weekend.
That was his job and that’s just the way it was with him and many of his contemporaries. They took their work and their commitment to the communities they served just as seriously as any major league metro reporter or editor would.
That is, perhaps, why I find Shawn’s passing difficult to absorb — he was cut from the same cloth and it bothers me that the number of people like that in this business is dwindling.
I’m not saying our current reporters, or those who worked with Shawn, aren’t just as committed to doing a good job. They are. But he always struck me as the sort who would have been just as comfortable lugging around one of those old five-pound Speed Graphic press cameras back in the 1950s as he was carrying the tiny-by-comparison digital shooter that accompanied him on assignments.
And unlike some modern small market media types who tend to think they’re hot stuff when they decidedly are not, Shawn was always courteous and respectful to others on the scene, and frequently funny.
They just don’t make many like that anymore, and that’s a shame. Sure, there are still a few here and there, but they’re disappearing, as are the once plentiful independent small newspapers that employed them.
As unusual as it might seem for me to devote this much space to recognizing someone I didn’t know as well as I would have liked, it remains that Shawn was one of us — a very small contingent of people who do what we do because we like it and believe in it.
While our sense of loss cannot compare to that of his family, close friends and co-workers, it’s still a sad day for all of us who make a living in this business.
That’s because we respected him for what he did and how he did it ... the old-fashioned way.
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