If you have played sports during your high school days in Southwest Montana since 1979, or done any number of youth or adult activities such as bowling, golf, rodeo, racquetball, handball, skiing or softball, just to name a few, more than likely Butte’s Bruce Sayler has written a story about you.
Until yesterday, that is.
In a cowardly move only those at Lee Enterprises could’ve pulled off from cushy seats in their Davenport, Iowa corporate suites, Sayler’s Sports Editor position, where he was affectionately given the title of “Big Boss” by those who had the pleasure of working for him, was eliminated from The Montana Standard’s newsroom after 33 years of dedicated service to the readers of Butte, Anaconda and the surrounding area.
The sinking ship of Lee Enterprises thought that cutting ties with a man who has given 36 years to the company, the last 33 in Butte to the Standard, was a proper move during their $1 billion house cleaning in order to right the wrongs of last year’s bankruptcy filing.
What’s more, they gave CEO Mary Junck a $500,000 thank you and CFO Carl Schmidt $250,000 pat on the back for sweeping men like Sayler under the rug.
I understand some cost cutting measures had to be met to trim the bottom line, but three-plus decades worth of experience should have been treated with some more respect than this.
Bruce’s impact on me
In 2005, I was a guy in need of as much work as I could find. In 2003, my wife and I moved from Missoula where I was a student at the University of Montana working towards a degree in journalism. For two years, I bounced around from job to job, working seasonally for Summit Beverage and KANA 580 AM along with a full-time gig as a travel agent at Sato Travel in Butte before I broke in part-time with the Standard.
Having no degree and no work experience in the area of print journalism, Sayler took the word of former sports writer Carl Hennel that I may be able to help out around the office typing up bowling results and random boxscores while providing over the phone recaps of Anaconda High football scores when the team was on the road.
He hired me after my first work was horrible at best, but knowing I was passionate about the position, Bruce kept me on. In retrospect, the only reason he kept me around the office was so I could be the whipping post from Anaconda when all of the Butte boys were feeling down.
My first bylines were a joke. I’d write a story — one that would take me literally hours to compile — and couldn’t wait to see it in print the next day. But time and time again, it wasn’t my story. Bruce would save me from myself, rewrite the story to be readable and not say a word.
Sure, that’s the job of an editor to some degree, but not to the lengths the Big Boss went for me.
Over time, I got better. Paragraphs of editing soon turned in to sentences. The hordes of fragmented sentences I’d churn out, mostly from trying to meet pressured deadlines, soon became subtle grammatical tweaks. But for the life of me, I cannot remember when he didn’t change at least one word in one of my articles or editorials — a move that drove me to exceed even his expectations.
And for all the words I stumbled over and all the hours I put in to get better, I was just barely getting to the point of being truly independent before taking my current job here at The Anaconda Leader in July of 2007.
Sayler turned a kid with no discernible talent or style into one that can get around a page pretty proficiently. Some may argue that fact for one reason or another, but that’s the beauty of Sayler’s teachings. He taught all of us to stand by what we write and he would take the heat. And no matter the size of the flame he took backing up any one of us who worked for him, it would never roll downhill.
I couldn’t tell you why Bruce made the call to keep me on board for those first two years, maybe I wasn’t as bad as I’m letting on, but I’ll never forget the chance he took on a guy who was down on his luck just looking for a break.
The day I was offered the job here at The Anaconda Leader was one of the toughest days of my adult life. I was elated to be working in my hometown, however I had to make the call to tell my idol I wouldn’t be coming back.
When I finally got up the nerve to tell him, his only words were to wish me well and to congratulate me.
Even in my stead I continued using Bruce as a crutch, reading his every printed word in order to brush up on something I may have missed under his tutelage.
The irony of it all is Lee axed a man who could walk into any avenue of sports reporting, be it a rag owned by Lee or another print media outlet, and secure a position at the highest level. Yet, that meant nothing to the executives who were tasked to cut everything but their own lofty salaries.
People laughed at my choice to go from a daily paper to a biweekly in 2007 when I didn’t see much future for myself with Lee Enterprises — all but Bruce, that is.
Here’s a man who should’ve had the newsroom named after him and left under his own recognizance. Instead, without even a hint of dignity, he was shown the door when anything short of a hero’s sendoff would’ve been warranted.
Much in the same way I hated to make the call to Bruce in 2007 when I left, I’m dreading the call to give my best to him and his family coming here in the next couple days.
A true gem of a man wasn’t even given the time of day for same the company he poured his heart out for. If that’s not a reason to use the Standard for nothing more than lining your bird cage, I don’t know what is.