John Schneider recently ended a 24-year run as columnist for the Lansing State Journal.
To replace him, the paper called on Mark Mayes, who had been a reporter there back in the 90’s.
Mayes had left the paper to work for the Lansing School District for ten years. Now, at a time when writers are losing their jobs, he’s getting his back.
WKAR’s Scott Pohl spoke with Mark Mayes about how his column might be the same as Schneider’s, and how it might be different.
MARK MAYES: The connection that John had with readers, in speaking with them directly and through email, and just having that connection of getting involved in their issues and their problems and helping to solve them, I think is what I liked the best about it. That is what I think will be similar about it.
There are things that are different from me and John. I’m not sure I’ll be talking as much about myself, unless it’s a bigger event in my life, as he did. He always did a Sunday column that was very personal; mine has not been that yet. There may be an opportunity to do that, but they’ve really wanted me to focus on the watchdog part of it. I’ve really wanted to focus on that, so we have done that. I think there will be times when I’ll do that, but probably a little less than what he did.
I’d like to do some preventative things as far as letting people know about scams before they happen, ways to avoid scams, ways to maybe not run into problems, too. I think I want to do some of that as well.
SCOTT POHL: I think John achieved a certain stature in the community, where if someone had a problem, it wasn’t unusual for them to think at some point, “I want to talk to John Schneider about this.” In this transition, I would expect that fewer people are yet used to seeing Mark Mayes in the newspaper, and that calls and approaches to the newspaper to deal with that sort of thing, maybe, have fallen off a little bit. Do you have any sense for whether that has occurred?
MAYES: I don’t know for sure. John and I talked about how many calls he got, how many emails he got, but I think it varies at different times. What I’m really trying to do is make sure I respond to as many calls and emails as I can. Even if I can’t do a story, I try to respond and let people know that I’m listening. Keep me in mind for the future; here’s what I think you should do; it’s not going to make a column, but there is something you can do about it, to try to build that connection. I think people need to see that I am accessible. I’m trying to nurture that. That’s important to me. I think it’ll come as I do that. I’m trying to make sure that people see the connection. I think, for the most part, the people who are talking to me are very pleased with that. They seem to be liking the column, and they seem to appreciate the topics I’m covering.
POHL: When I came to see John in the last week of his column, he sat at this very same workstation. You were 10 or 20 feet away. Now, you have moved into what used to be his workstation. Does that feel odd?
MAYES: I appreciated the time I was here with him. I think I had two weeks that we worked side by side. He left me with a souvenir he had gotten from Jim Hough, from the old days, and I like having that on my desk.
POHL: What is that?
MAYES: An old glue can. They used to glue the pages together when they wrote them, and this was the glue pot or glue can that Jim used, and passed on. Obviously, we don’t use glue anymore, or even staples, but I appreciated that. It does kind of show the connection.
I got a chance to meet Mr. Hough when John was leaving, and he gave me a very good piece of advice that I try to keep in mind every day, which is that if you write what the readers want you to put in the paper, you can’t go wrong.
POHL: Are you having fun?
MAYES: Oh, yeah. It’s always been fun to write. I’ve always been a writer, so that’s been fun for me. Then, there’s the fun of being able to help people, the fun of being able to learn about new topics every day, new situations every day. That’s all very fun, and being able to do it on a daily basis here is a very, very fortunate opportunity for me.