Have I been so self-absorbed this last year that I didn’t know one of my former newspaper rivals and all-time heroes died? Like, a year ago?
I was looking through my Facebook stream and saw this link posted by the folks at Ale Industries: Beer of the Week: Ale Industries Bill Brand Brown. Among other things, Bill Brand was a hugely successful beer writer who touched the entire craft and home brewer community. Given this, I thought it was an appropriate gesture for Morgan and the gang at AI to honor him. I imagined Bill being both modest and honored about it.
But he apparently passed away a year ago. A YEAR AGO! He was hit by a MUNI train while leaving the 21st Amendment (next door to where I now work) on February 25, 2009.
When I first heard that Bill was a beer columnist, I laughed. See, the name “William Brand” holds special significance for me. When I worked for the Daily Cal in college, he was both my hero and my friendly nemesis. I was the assistant editor in charge of city news at the time and the crime beat reporter. Whenever a story broke in the city, it passed my desk. And, the next day, I would always open the Oakland Tribune to see how Bill covered it. And, damn, was he good.
I got the opportunity to meet him in person only once to my memory. We were covering a homicide trial at the Alameda County courthouse. During one of the recesses, I retired to the press room – a run down, out of the way office that had a couple of discarded desks and one phone. Bill was already in there. Being the excited young pup reporter I was, I introduced myself. When he told me his name, I about hit the floor. I told him all about how I read all his stories, about how I felt the need to compete against him, etc. He seemed mildly flattered by the adulation, but was incredibly modest. He completely fit my mental image of the jaded, hardened longtime reporter that I secretly wanted to become. At the same time, he seemed like some of the life had also been sucked out of him by his job.
We shot the shit for a few minutes and he gave me some career advice (“Well, you’ll never get rich as a newspaper man, I’ll tell you that.”) I felt like I was sort of bothering him, though, so when he ran off to lunch, that the end of the connection.
It was a small connection, but I remember it to this day and have it marked as a hallmark in my short journalism career. I had previously wanted to go work for the New York Times or Washington Post or one of the other major dailies as soon as I could. After meeting Bill, I decided that working for the Tribune as a career wouldn’t be such a bad life.
Not that it mattered. I wound up working as a news editor for AOL’s Digital City San Francisco, which lasted all of four weeks before they decided there was no money to be made in it and they transferred me to be a community builder. Then I got swept up in the dot com boom, went back to my programming roots… If you know me, you know the rest.
I’ve been asked what would I do if money no longer mattered. What job would I take, if any? If I could become a full time news reporter on a daily newspaper, news web site or some other long-form news medium (the rigid brevity of TV and news radio never appealed to me) I’d do it in a heartbeat, no question. And when I imagine myself doing it, I always see myself as Bill Brand, sitting there in that dinky press room banging on his laptop.