Life lessons from Bob Cole’s lovemaking

Barely a day goes by in my job that I don’t think about Bob Cole’s lovemaking.

No, I don’t have a thing for bearded guys. It’s just that when you work in business journalism like I do, you get a lot of public relations folks pitching story ideas to you, promising their client’s swell new widget is “unique.”

And that immediately takes me back to sitting in a classroom in Holman Hall, listening to Dr. Cole remind me and my classmates that “nothing is unique but my lovemaking.”

I’ll have to take Dr. Cole’s word on that, but it’s those lessons, including many that don’t involve libidinal actions that stay with me 13 years after I graduated, 13 years after I started getting paid every two weeks to write.

I started college with a vague idea that I’d pursue journalism as a career. I took to reading and writing early in life and liked it, and I’ve been a news junkie for as long as I can remember. That must have been the result of having the Watergate hearings interrupt my regular viewings of “Sesame Street.”

But journalism wasn’t a sure thing for me. Some reporters grow up with ink in their veins, dreaming of the day they’ll be grilling the president in front of a national audience. The glamour of that image had its charms, but I’m a shy fellow and I didn’t think I had the iron stomach nor the iron hairdo for that kind of work.

Then I took Introduction to Journalism with Dr. Cole. He didn’t do anything for my hair, but he was such a living embodiment of the enthusiasm you need to go into this field that it was hard not to get excited by the possibilities.

In a profession where a certain world-weary jadedness beyond your years can look like a job requirement, Dr. Cole wasn’t ashamed to be excited by the chance to right wrongs just by the simple act of asking a lot of questions and typing up what you learned. He could be ruthlessly skeptical, like any good reporter, but he never became cynical.

And he was fun. You could tell he enjoyed what he was doing. How on earth he managed to slog through 20 or so reports each week on the picayune doings of the student government or the Lower Makefield town council is a mystery to me.

But he did it, and he’d come to class and slap the reports onto a complicated overhead projector that looked like it doubled as a radar station, praising tightly written stories and highlighting clever turns of phrase, and employing the ruthlessness of any good copy editor in pointing out questions left unasked, or the copy that needed a few more predicates just to rise to

the level of “turgid.”

Above all, Dr. Cole’s classes were fun. Academic journalism sometimes has a tendency to wander through the clouds, where deadlines don’t exist and sources are always available and helpful. Dr. Cole knew this wasn’t so and didn’t spend inordinate amounts of time laboring in the world of theory. He looked at real situations and spoke with the unapologetic vulgarities you’d expect in a real newsroom.

Journalism is not an easy profession. You’re not going to get rich doing it, and we’re often in a three-way battle with used-car salesmen and politicians for public esteem. Our mistakes go in black-and-white for all the world to see, and our triumphs are tomorrow’s birdcage linings. I’ve known many capable reporters who found themselves burned out and left the profession.

But for those of us who are sticking it out, there’s a fun in journalism that’s difficult to imagine in any other field. It’s the fun of indulging our natural nosiness and learning a little about all sorts of people. Dr. Cole helped point me toward the enjoyment of this profession, and for that I’ll always be grateful.