In Memory of Dick Snider

By Peter Hancock
Special to the Topeka Metro News
Nov. 26, 2004

Babe Ruth hit his last home run as a player for the Boston Braves. The last uniform he wore (as a coach) was that of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Michael Jordan finished his career in the NBA with the Washington Wizards, and Joe Namath threw his last NFL pass for the Los Angeles Rams.

A lot of great people end their careers in places other than the one that made them famous, and so it was with Dick Snider who died this week at age 83, a month after publishing his final column in the Topeka Metro News.

Regardless of where he ended his career, most readers will always remember Snider as a longtime reporter and columnist for the Topeka Capital-Journal. And that’s as it should be, even though his short-lived career at this newspaper should never be forgotten or discounted.

I never had the privilege of knowing Snider personally, but I always admired his work. He had that rare ability to keep both the big world and the small world in their proper perspective – to write with equal eloquence and passion about city politics or a Snider family reunion.

He could be lighthearted and whimsical, or he could be dark and caustic. Either way, he never fell into the trap of taking himself, or his own opinions, too seriously.

Snider came to this newspaper after what can only be described as a less than amicable separation from the Capital-Journal. I don’t presume to know all the reasons for his departure from that paper, nor would I presume to pass them along here even if I did.

What is generally known, though, is that Snider had been writing columns that got under the skin of some influential people in town. In particular, he been unsparing in his criticism of the Topeka public school district and the way it accounted for the spending of public money.

Snider, of course, wasn’t the first local columnist to be dropped by the daily newspaper after expressing opinions that ruffled important feathers in town. Earlier, Doctor Bill Roy switched over to the Metro News after a series of blistering columns that criticized the proposed buyout of Blue Cross-Blue Shield of Kansas – a major advertiser – by Anthem Insurance.

Dr. Roy eventually found his way back into the Capital-Journal’s good graces. Snider chose to stick it out with this newspaper, and we will be forever grateful that he did.

Still, when it was clear his battle with cancer was about to end and it was time for him to resolve all the conflicts in grievances of this life, it was only fitting that his final column was reprinted on the front page of The Topeka-Capital Journal, the paper where he’d spent so many years and won over so many fans. It was a classy gesture by Mark Nusbaum, the new publisher over there, as well as Metro News publisher Denise Hall.

For reporters of my age, Snider’s passing is another one of those weighty reminders that we are no longer the young kids on the block. When I moved back to Kansas and started this journalism gig in the late 1980s, papers here were filled with writers who might consider giants in the business – people like Lew Ferguson of the AP, John Peterson of The Kansas City Star and David Awbrey of The Wichita Eagle.

These were the guys who’d been around the block, the ones who had incredible stories to tell about past governors and senators, about cranking out stories under deadline using manual typewriters and typesetting pages on old linotype machines.

A few of the big names from that era are still around, but with each passing year I’m noticing another has either retired, moved on or, in Snider’s case, shed this mortal coil. That leaves people in my age bracket to fill their shoes, and quite frankly I’m not comfortable with that.

You don’t have to spend much time these days reading a newspaper or watching TV news to conclude that news reporting isn’t getting better. In so many ways, sportswriters have become celebrity watchers. Crime reporters seldom look beyond the police blotter, government reporters have become mere stenographers for power and elections have been reduced to horse races and beauty contests.

People in my generation see these trends and know something’s wrong because we learned from people like Dick Snider and all the others who used to do things the right way.

What’s cause for worry is the generation just now coming of age – the kids growing up in this environment, seeing things as they are now, and being taught that this is what journalism is supposed to be.

Pity the people who will someday think that these are the good old days.

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