Being a mid-level editor at a small newspaper — or at any newspaper, for that matter — is one of the most thankless jobs in American journalism.
To readers, such journalists are mostly invisible. Reporters get bylines. The editors who improve and shape the stories or write the headlines that appear over them are largely anonymous.
Like baseball managers, these editors are often caught in the middle. They are blamed by their higher-profile bosses in the front office when things go wrong, but they are rarely noticed, or credited, when things go right. It's a job with more responsibility than authority. The work itself can be tedious. It often features night shifts in half-empty, fluorescent-lit newsrooms — not exactly the glamorous life of journalism as seen on television or movies.
The New York Sun, during its time as a print daily from 2002 to 2008, was blessed with more than its fair share of excellent people who did those jobs. One of the best of them, Mike Saucier, died this past week of pancreatic cancer, 30 days after being diagnosed.
A search of the Sun's current website doesn't turn up any of his bylines, but his sensibility and curiosity shaped the paper's content as surely as did any of its star reporters. He eventually left the paper to join the Bloomberg administration, where he was a spokesman for the Department of Correction and the Department of Environmental Protection. When his wife, Fernanda Santos, moved to Phoenix as the New York Times bureau chief, Saucier moved to the Southwest with her and their daughter.
He had gotten a job interview at the Sun probably on the basis of his experience at the New York Post and the Boston Herald. He got the job probably in part on the basis of he grew up in Central Massachusetts at about the same time I did, and had worked at small newspapers there. He won the respect of his colleagues on the basis of his steadiness under deadline pressure, his news judgment, and his concern for accuracy and fairness.
There's a photograph that exists of the Sun editorial staff in the Chambers Street newsroom. It was taken for some glossy magazine feature that I think ended up getting killed, but it captures some of the dynamics of the personalities involved. Saucier is sitting somewhere right there in the middle of things.
After the Sun ceased daily publication people sometimes approached me looking to hire journalists. I sent one such hiring editor a list of seven names. The first one was Saucier. "Very solid, competent news guy," I wrote, "Basically on our side politically." I didn't hear anything else about it until the holiday season, when Saucier asked for my address. A very nice bottle of wine arrived. It was the only time in my memory that any of the dozens of journalists I have recommended for jobs ever sent me a thank you gift.
When, after the Sun folded, I launched a web site seeking to bring increased transparency and accountability to the news business, Saucier sent a private note of encouragement.
He'll be missed and remembered.