Strong Arm Of The Log

by Bill Brenner on January 17, 2010

The author admits he stole the title for this entry from an old North Shore Sunday article because, well, he thought it was cool.

See the bald guy at the front of the picture above? That’s Mike Strong, an old friend of mine from the college days. I look up to him today. But there was a time when I hated his guts.

I met Mike back in 1993 at Salem State College. We were both writing for the college paper, “The Log.” We got along swimmingly at the start, as we had things in common. I was from Revere. He was from neighboring Lynn. We both spoke the same salty language.

But something strange happened that first year.

The editor-in-chief position at the paper was filled by election. Mike was running. So was a guy named Mike Murphy, a young-Republican type who was a member of the Student Government Association.

At the time, I was making friends in both camps. But the two camps were distrustful of each other. The path to disaster was paved.

On election day, I voted for Murphy. Truth be told, I did it because I was chummy with him and my brain was conflicted. I regretted the choice from the moment I put the vote in the ballot box. No disrespect for Murphy. I just realized I voted based on friendship and not who was best qualified.

My vote put Murphy ahead. The then-editor-in-chief had the brilliant idea of opening the ballot box mid-day to see how the vote was going. Murphy was ahead. The editor-in-chief decided Murphy would be a disaster and decided to rig the election in Strong’s favor.

He got caught, of course. Another election was held, and this time Strong came out on top. I voted for him this time. But by then, most of the staff were suspicious of my first vote, especially Strong. I guess that meant my being elected managing editor was a laughable thing. There was no way Strong was going to trust me as his managing editor. I didn’t blame him.

The next semester started out as rocky as I expected it would. Truth be told, I was slacking. I was enjoying that I held the position. But I was doing nothing to earn it. Mike eventually called me on it. I resigned and decided to focus full-throttle on writing and reporting.

At that moment, the relationship changed. Over the course of the year, our friendship deepened.

He was a harsh editor. He would toss stories back at you and tell you it needed work. That’s where the North Shore Sunday reporter who wrote about The Log came up with the “Strong Arm of the Law” headline. I don’t thing Strong liked the headline very much. I thought it was excellent.

The article described a revolving door of students who would come in wanting to write, only to flee in frustration soon after because they couldn’t handle the Strong treatment.

I thought it was funny, in part because I knew it was exaggerated. Sure, a lot of students couldn’t handle it, but a lot of students could and did. And they became attached to the Log office and Strong himself.

It’s funny we would be so attached to that office. The place was filthy and constantly smelled horrific because of a leaking grease pipe in the ceiling above that ran from the campus cafeteria.

As a reporter, I dug deep into Student Government affairs in search of corruption. I poured over financial records and made much of a couple junkets members had gone on. Strong kept on me during that story, settling for nothing but ironclad reporting. In the space of 2 weeks, I gained 15 pounds and was waking up in the middle of the night with flop sweat.

You might say that was an early sign of one of my OCD quirks — making myself rabid in the effort to be a people pleaser. I’m glad I got over that habit.

After graduation, Strong and I were in and out of touch. In the last couple years we have been in constant contact, thanks to the miracle of Facebook.

Mike has gone on to do wonderful things. He’s the director of Par Fore the Cure, an organization that, according to its website, does the following:

We honor the lives of those who have succumbed to brain tumors (and, by extension, all cancers) and offer hope to those still affected by cancer. We raise awareness and fund research through contributions to the Jimmy Fund. We run our events efficiently, ensuring our annual donations increase while our guest costs remain affordable. To date we have donated more than $265,000 for brain tumor research at the Dana-Farber Cancer Research in Boston.

Strong’s tireless drive keeps this machine humming smoothly along, and in the process lives are being made better.

We also have Faith in common. Both of us have become devout Catholics, and share stories of our Faith frequently.

I’m not sure I have a point for this tale. I guess he was on my mind because we’ve been talking a lot in recent days about the special Senate election to fill Ted Kennedy’s seat. He’s pushing hard for Scott Brown.

Friends like him give me the inspiration to press on when I’m feeling down. As a result, I’m feeling Up much more often.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Mike January 17, 2010 at 3:04 am

OK, Bill. you wanted me to comment on your stories. I guess this is how you lure me in? 🙂

First off, let me clarify a few things. First, I had no animosity on the first election. In fact, I did not know how the first vote was cast. I do remember Vinnie calling people who were not there to vote, and putting their names in there. Not good. I’m also friendly with Mike Murphy … met him riding the PMC a couple years ago.

Secondly, I LOVED the Strong Arm of the Log headline. You know how I love puns, and that was perfect. I know I was overbearing, and like you learning lessons from that, I also learned that nobody in this world can meet up to my expectations. I hold myself to such a standard, it’s impossible for anyone to match that.

I will agree with calling you on your managing editor duties. I remember I was there all the time at the beginning, trying to shape the course of the publication, bringing credibility and viability to the paper, and had to say something. Even now I expect more from our team of leaders than I do for those who are volunteers the day of the event, for instance.

What happened as the result of all that is that we began winning awards as a top-10 paper in the country, received lots of local media coverage for our (your) news coverage, and the respect of the faculty who had barely read that paper before, as it was such a rag. We all transformed a laughing stock rag into a credible, viable publication, increasing revenue from $11,000 the year before we took over to $55,000 the year I left 3.5 years later

I’ll also agree that you kicked total butt when you decided to just focus on writing. Since those days, you’ve become a polished writer, rather than the raw writer you were back then.

I think the Log experience taught us all lessons as we all journeyed to our “voice”, whatever that may be these days.

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