Don McLeese and Dave Hoekstra give us two new books

Don McLeese and Dave Hoekstra – remember their names, all you newspaper readers out there?

They were, in their time, not so long ago, among the most famous, most prolific in the Sun-Times, McLeese on music and Hoekstra on general culture, entertainment and sports.

McLeese left town first, for Austin, Texas, where he wrote for the Austin American-Statesman and then for the University of Iowa in Des Moines to teach journalism, which he has been doing for nearly 20 years.

After starting a newspaper career as a junior in high school at the Aurora Beacon-News, Hoekstra left the Sun-Times after nearly 30 years there in 2014. As he told me at the time, “The time was right, because the paper was so big. I stopped publishing a lot of what I wrote.” .”

Each has written previous books, McLeese about Dwight Yoakam and the Motor City 5, and Hoekstra about supper clubs, live dining and more (he’s also done a couple of good articles, and has contributed to the Tribune). These new books are the most ambitious and the most daring, one technical and the other very personal.

In “Beacons in the Darkness: Hope and Transformation Among America’s Community Newspapers” (Agate Midway), Hoekstra writes, “To understand the community newspaper … you have to understand the community.” He also writes that this is “not just a book about journalism… (but) a book about the end of human relations and the dedication to the common good.”

It started four years ago with his desire to write for the Hillsboro Journal-News in a small Illinois town of about 6,000 people about 75 miles north of St. Louis. This idea grew into a serious problem, when he interviewed and evaluated many people in about 20 other newspapers, both independent and family-run, one up to its fifth generation.

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They give us a look at the papers in Miami, South Carolina and the Reader here in the city, and they give good news. I was particularly taken by those in Marfa, Texas, where the Big Bend Sentinel is run by a young New York family, who have decorated their offices with coffee and barrels.

Joy and hope in a hopeless place, filled with interesting statistics such as “since 2004, more than 1,800 printing places have closed in the United States and almost 200 counties had no newspapers at all.”

He wrote: “Several times during private conversations … several publishers in the family shed tears. But Hoekstra is an interesting person. There are no easy answers to “how can newspapers survive?” question but he gives many examples of how others are trying, bravely and wisely. He writes, “the media will not die if they share the spirit of experimental thinking with the people of society.”

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I read the book before it was released and that’s why you’ll see a quote from me on the cover. I wrote that there is “hope for all of us.”

"Slippery Movements: Rolling and Rocking in a vertical direction" and Don McLeese.

The same is true of McLeese’s “Slippery Steps: Rolling and Tumbling Toward Sobriety” (Ice Cube Press), in which he informs the reader, some 250 pages in, that, “I didn’t write this because I thought a book about me would. I have every interest, and , if I had, I would have made the episode interesting — rock stars, journalistic gossip, whatever. My goal all along was to write about how abstinence can change your life, or it has changed my life.”

However, it starts off so terrifyingly that it is impossible not to read. He wrote on his first page: “I didn’t really know who I was, where I was, or why.” I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It was dark outside, and it was raining, but was it 10 at night or 4 in the morning? There was lightning, and there was thunder. It was a hot August night in West Des Moines. I was lying on the grass, motionless, wet.

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Then he gives us the difficult path that led him to that sad place, from childhood, to running a thrift store, to a first marriage, to writing for the Reader and then the Sun-Times.

His drinking was constant and for a while he was fueled by marijuana and cocaine. He did not notice the problems, because he remained active and good-looking. He had a family, good job and age.

But he knows better now, he asks in the book, “How often do I drive drunk? Always, especially on the way home. To think that I haven’t hurt anyone, or killed anyone, or been charged with drunk driving, seems like a miracle to me.”

He started writing this book without thinking that it could be published. “In some ways, it was a cleansing for me, a redemption in the sense that I was writing on my own before,” he told me. “This was an attempt to understand myself.”

He said bluntly: “My wife Maria was not very fond of me when I was writing this book, but she is the expert of this book.” However, he and the family’s two older daughters, Kelly and Molly, are portrayed in a true and loving way, his love and appreciation clear.

McLeese and Hoekstra both seem to be enjoying themselves as they work to talk about their new books. We hope he has more to write about.

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