A view from the other side of the notepad

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By Sherry Robinson

If you look in the habitat of print journalists, you won’t find many with any fashion sense. In fact, if you could see our closets, you’d probably laugh. One reporter I knew thought hiking boots, jeans and a flannel shirt constituted professional attire – and this was a woman.

So that’s why Gilbert Gallegos stood out from the crowd. It’s not that he was a flashy dresser, but in a newsroom of the, uh, stylishly challenged he stood out in his khakis, pressed white shirt and tie.

Gilbert’s conservative dress was emblematic of his reporting. As a political reporter, he was careful, fair, competent, unpretentious and hard working. I’m sure his reliability and professionalism helped get him hired as spokesman for the governor.

I’ve wondered how he finds life on the other side of the notepad. More recently, I’ve wondered how he would cover the pay-to-play developments if he were still a reporter.

I don’t need to call up and ask (he wouldn’t say, anyhow) because I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

I’ve had two of those jobs – one for Public Service Company of New Mexico. When I was being recruited at PNM, I had some reservations about doing public relations. My future boss was direct: “You won’t ever have to lie, whitewash or stonewall. We just want you to tell our side of the story.”

Fair enough. I can do that, I said.

What  I found is that often nobody wants to hear that side of the story, or it’s not the story they were looking for. I always thought I was pretty objective and assumed my fellow ink-stained wretches were, too. My first big lesson was that not all reporters are objective.

No surprise there, you might say. But when you’ve been on the inside of the beast, it’s a revelation. It was probably a shock to Gilbert that people he thought he knew pretty well didn’t want to write a dispassionate story – they wanted blood.

Factor in human nature. The way most of us tick, we are loyal to the people we represent. I got to know many of PNM’s execs and a good many of my co-workers and believed them to be bright, well-intentioned people. I hadn’t sold out – I just knew more.

I see Gilbert there, too. He’s loyal to the governor, but in these times, when we chew up our public officials and look for more, when former aides quit and write tell-all books, there’s an undercurrent of doubt: What’s wrong with Gilbert? The people who used to be your friends declare you guilty by association.

Oddly, there’s been a lot of criticism of this administration for hiring former reporters. The assumption is that somehow they’re manipulating the news. If the critics only knew. Once a reporter crosses to the other side, the honeymoon lasts about five minutes.

Recently, I notice Gilbert being a bit short with reporters, and I think the job is wearing on him. No wonder.

This week Thomas Cole, the Albuquerque Journal’s investigative reporter, whined on the front page that “the governor’s combative press secretary” not only won’t tell him the names of the appointees being terminated, he instructed all the state’s public information officers not to speak with Cole.

I was once incensed enough about shoddy, unfair reporting of PNM to refuse to speak to a certain reporter. But there’s more to this.

Cole had a tantrum about the public’s right to know. Give me a break. He knows perfectly well this is a personnel issue and therefore not public information. But how about a little decency? Isn’t it bad enough to lose your job without also being outed in the state’s biggest newspaper?

Maybe Gilbert needs a little time off. But Cole needs to check his ego. And keep checking it.