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Esther J. Cepeda

Esther J. Cepeda

Posted: August 19, 2009 09:41 AM

Bob Novak and Me: A Journalistic Journey From Old School to New School and Back


There was no "me and Bob Novak" per se, it's not like we'd walk out of the Chicago Sun-Times building together -- back when it wasn't the basement of the Trump Tower --
and head over to the Billy Goat for a cold one after deadline had passed and the paper was most of the way put to bed for the night.

No, Bob Novak was my frequent companion as I grew up in Wrigleyville in the eighties, a weirdo kid who would always read nearly every word of the paper and whose bedroom wall was a mosaic of cutout columns and pictures from the Sun-Times.

So Novak, the "pugnacious political columnist" as Wednesday's New York Times called him, has been with me every step of the way even though he didn't know it.

Keep in mind that I really was a weirdo kid: the kind who, as young as 10, looked forward to getting up early on Sunday mornings to flip around all the channels and catch pieces of all the political talk shows where staid white men raised their voices at each other about important people and things.

During the week, through his column, Novak whispered in my ear about who these people were and what the important issues they were talking about meant.

Novak taught me -- a child of immigrant parents who spoke only Spanish at home -- how to construct a sentence, turn a phrase, use a big word when necessary and stick to the smaller ones to make important points.

Through the TV Novak taught me how to be cool in front of the camera, how to wither a sparring partner with a well-informed-glare, and smile honestly when it was all over.

Novak taught me -- and the country -- that there is great power in sashaying behind closed doors, digging for the truth, and then getting it out there in the paper, on the TV, on the radio, in magazines, in books, and on the internet.

Novak became a star by letting the story -- and the reporting -- be the star of his work, he taught me that too.

In her remembrance today, my Sun-Times colleague, Lynn Sweet quoted Jim Walton, the president of CNN Worldwide talking about what a treasure Novak was.

What better way to honor the passing of this giant than to pledge that in Novak's passing I, too, will strive to be "a journalist of the old school, hardworking, practical, and passionate about our profession."

If I can have a tiny fraction of impact on a young journalist that Robert Novak had on me, I'll consider it a job well done.

Esther J. Cepeda carries on the old school and new school traditions on www.600words.com

Follow Esther J. Cepeda on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ejc600words