Thursday, December 4, 2008

Tribute to Mike Hughes

The voice of arts and entertainment coverage in Lansing since 1974 has been, without question, Mike Hughes, the arts and entertainment writer for the Lansing State Journal. Nor could we claim him as simply our own. The articles he wrote on all angles of popular culture were picked up by wire services and run in newspapers around the nation. When I told arts writers from around the country that I freelanced for the Lansing State Journal, Mike was always the name they knew.

Yesterday, Gannett had another round of massive layoffs and Mike Hughes, their veteran reporter and a driven and prolific writer, was let go. Along with Mike, the staff of the NOISE was also let go as were others.

When I first arrived in the State Journal newsroom back in the early 90s, I was focused on news and was only vaguely aware of Mike. As a member of the copy desk, my work day started after his ended. But I knew who he was because his was the desk piled high with papers. I would learn over the years, it was because Mike's beat was pretty wide and his desk was full because his work load was tremendous.

After I left the LSJ and slowly became a part of the theater community, I became more and more aware of Mike as he was one of the few voices consistently covering the arts. His passion was obviously for television and movies, but he knew the theater community and was a constant and consistent voice for them.

He was also very enthusiastic about my writing a performing arts column and was always supportive. While Robin did most of the coordinating, Mike and I would talk occasionally about who would write about what and he was always a big advocate of groups getting more coverage. He has a very generous nature and even after 30 years remained curious and interested about local arts and art organizations.

Mike was also the chair of the Thespie Committee. More than that, it was his baby. He selected judges, determined the process, and was a living memory of every Thespie meeting. He was also our tie-breaker. It was during these meetings that I had the opportunity to meet Mike on a personal level and during which my respect for him grew.

Mike was not only one of the most productive and prolific local entertainment writers, but he was also the most upbeat. He is constantly cheerful, always has a smile, and could burst out with one of those great laughs that made you want to join him.

I know that arts and entertainment writers are being culled from newsrooms around the country. It's short-sighted on the part of corporate news companies who consistently prove how very out of touch they are with the next generation, which they seem to think are interested exclusively in beer and fashion.

I don't know what will happen with the arts coverage at the Lansing State Journal. What I do know is that the loss of Mike Hughes as their arts and entertainment reporter is a blow to the entire community.

Mike, I wish you well. It has been an honor to work with you and I hope to continue to see you around town.


Robin Miner-Swartz said...

Beautifully written, Bridgette.

I am so very saddened by this loss both personally and professionally. I met Mike when I was about 15 and would fill in for him -- or with him -- on the public-access show "Mike and Matt's Media Meanderings," which he co-hosted with Matt Ottinger. Mike's passion for what he does was contagious, and he helped me see that journalism was where I belonged, too.

When I was in college, I called the newspaper to see if there were any mailroom jobs (yes, I get much of my knowledge from TV and movies...), Mike briefly put me on hold, came back on the line and asked, "Can you review a play tonight?" I've been with the State Journal ever since.

I've had the honor of working with Mike in the office for 11 years, and I learned something from him every single day.

His tireless commitment to his work and to the community was and always will be something to be admired. He was the rarest of birds around here -- and a huge fan of the groups, people and entertainment that he covered.

His absence is deeply felt.

Bridgette Redman said...

And now I've gotten teary. Thank you, Robin, for adding your moving tribute.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of those people who brought up Mike's name when you introduced yourself. Wonderful tribute. (Whitney Smith at Indy was also on the Gannett list.) Send him my best wishes and appreciation.

David Burke

Bridgette Redman said...

Hi David!

Whitney too? Oh, that's horrible news as well. I'll have to drop him a line. My husband and I had breakfast with him in Indianapolis this past summer and we were looking forward to visiting him again.

Why do newspapers keep getting rid of the reasons that people buy them?

Anonymous said...

Bridgette -

How do we submit our complaints and outrage over this????


Bridgette Redman said...

That's a good question, Veronica. Let me do some asking around and get back with you. I'm not in the newsroom, so some of what I'm hearing is simply rumors, but it does seem as though this was a decision that came from corporate and was handed down. That might make a difference in response.

I would love to form an investment company that managed 401Ks and refused to invest in any company that laid employees off in order to increase their profit margin.

I'll get back with you on where best to send complaints.


Bridgette Redman said...

For now, the best course of action may be to write letters to the editor.

Is there something else that we can do? That might be a question for the arts community to ask. There is no lack for creativity amongst those that Mike has covered through the years. Perhaps something could be thought of.

Anonymous said...

This is a huge, horrible blow to the arts in this area. Not to mention a horrible thing to do to a group of people right before the holidays.

Mike is a great guy, was always very kind to us at Williamston Theatre, and he'll be sorely missed at LSJ.
Tony Caselli