Thursday, June 12, 2014


This is how huge Jim Hayes factored in our lives:

Nancy and I didn't tell him when we decided to leave news reporting. Having cast ourselves out of Eden, we were ashamed.

Sure, it sounds like sacrilegious hyperbole, but that's how we felt.

As a result, we wasted many years not hearing his wise words, of friendship as fellow adults rather than idealistic and naive journalism students, of addressing each other as  Jim and Nancy and Shawn (she and I met at the school newspaper) rather than Mr. Hayes and Nancy and Shawn.

facebook®©™, God love it, reclaimed some of that time.

Jim Hayes passed away this week, of complications from cancer. He was 88.

He was The Guy at Cal Poly's journalism department in San Luis Obispo. Our other professors came from the profession, too, but Jim Hayes was the reporting instructor at the time. He came from the horseshoe-shaped copy desk in the clattering newsroom of all our film-fed ideas of what a newsroom looked and sounded and smelled like. He was what we wanted to be. What some of us thought we wanted to be, anyway.

Funny, as a student I never once asked him his news background, where he came from, what he had done in life. You'd think a future news reporter would think to ask. I never did.

Besides, the guy scared the hell out of me.

So kindly and gentle, yet so frustratingly enigmatic, so apt to saunter while all of us students seemed to be running all the time — that was Jim Hayes for me.  I was always waiting for his fangs to spring and his skin to change color.

We all wanted Jim Hayes' attention, because he Knew Things, and he knew that we knew it.

He used this mind trick on us onrushing journalism students, seeking counsel as he sauntered about campus. Jim Hayes would respond to our questions with a story, a parable having nothing to do with what we asked — or did it? — and then would saunter through the fog he had just loosed in our brains, and disappear.

We wanted to be reporters. Jim Hayes was The Way, and we followed.

It was not easy. His fangs, in fact, came out. They flashed for our sin of misspelling, of not checking facts, of using the wrong punctuation.
Carelessness can be Fatal. Sorry. See me. Ask not for whom the F tells …

Fangs with a capital "F." Big, red, boldly, juicily branded in PaperMate™® pen that hemorrhaged at the top of your typed and stapled news story — "F!" Any ink left in the pen was used to write: See me.
(To be accurate, the juicy letters were just as likely to be black ink as red, but they hurt the same. "Don't let facts get in the way of a good story," as Jim Hayes never would have said.)
I don't want to remember what I remember, but I believe two "F's" on stories filed during the quarter meant an "F" for the course. See me next quarter. See me If the course is available. See me, and we'll see.
My friend David Middlecamp, a photographer at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo, dredges up worse, reminding me that Jim Hayes also showed your work to the class. He made transparencies of your story and projected it onto the wall. Your story remained anonymous; he blotted your name. The room was also dark during this dark time, concealing glee and utter shame alike, so Mr. Hayes was not without his mercies.
For days on end, it seemed, Mr. Hayes and the class shared in excoriating your work and eviscerating your confidence. For nanoseconds, by comparison, your fluky good story won praise and admiration, and it seemed months sauntered by before that happened again.

I remember now. I remember that moments before Mr. Hayes projected my story, I could not be sure whether damnation was at hand. Usually it was.

Jim Hayes also gave us current-events quizzes. One wrong answer and you failed, as I remember. No Internet, no Google®, no Yahoo™© news feed, no Huffington Post®™ or Buzzfeed™, no bell curve, no gimmes. You had to devour the newspaper and Time® and Newsweek™ magazines. On top of your zoology and geography and whatever other burdens you carried. Or else.
My first year at Cal Poly, I hyperventilated all the oxygen in San Luis Obispo. I questioned my existence and purpose. I took every pain, every long night, to report my stories to perfection.

And failed anyway.

Carelessness … Quote leads should be avoided, at least until you
learn how to handle straight summaries … Wrong possessive …
This means nothing if you don't know where it is … etc., etc., etc.
A wild circuit of felt pen ink emanated from the F, lassoing the offensive misspellings in the third graf. Plenty of  ink left: See me.

Nothing about bringing my own cigarettes and blindfold. I inferred that much from his violent dance of penmanship.

Perhaps this is the "F" story (left) that signaled my doom in his class. I sweated that visit, imagining the implosive end to my brief time at college:
"It's clear this isn't for you," I imagined Jim Hayes telling me. "You can't seem to avoid mistakes, and a reporter can't make mistakes. A reporter's readers are counting on him for the truth. You can't handle the truth.

(That's right: I imagined he predated Aaron Sorkin.)

"I know some people," I imagined him saying, after the deathliest pause. "I suppose I can find something for you in another department. What else do you think you wouldn't be bad at?"
I think I had already told my parents I was probably coming home to start over.

Nerve-wracked news story in hand, I saw Jim Hayes, and what he said instead was, "Come with me."

He led me down the hall to the Mustang Daily offices, where students produce a newspaper all on their own.

"Andrew," Jim Hayes said to the editor, Andrew Jowers, who towered over us. "This is Shawn Turner. He's going to be reporting to you from now on, and you'll turn his stories in to me to grade for reporting class."

Jim Hayes turned to me, looking over his half-rim glasses. "OK?" he said.

"Thank you!" I said. "All right," he answered, and sauntered back to his office.

Andrew didn't seem unhappy at the news. If he was, he hid it well, and gave me a story. I could not hide being stunned at what just happened.

And that's how I passed reporting I and II classes. I can't say the stories were perfect — student editors, I'm sure, saved my ass from Jim Hayes' scarlet brand many times — but I felt capable under this different pressure. Maybe it was being among peers, maybe the incentive of seeing my words in print the next day, the obligation it presented. I really have no idea.

But Jim Hayes had an idea, and I'll always be grateful.

I didn't become the news reporter I imagined, partly because I hadn't fully imagined that life. I had no long-range plan beyond getting a job, and once I got a job I also got a life, and the life I got (the life I enjoy now) made being a reporter difficult. Also I found out the hard way I didn't like being a reporter and wasn't all that good at it.

Nancy and I eventually departed for public relations, two words we couldn't say without wincing when we were students.

And we felt we had fallen from grace.

In his gracious way, Jim Hayes again entered our lives through facebook®™. He kindly commented on my blog posts, reminding me by his comments that I wasn't writing for myself, that other people were reading … that Jim Hayes was reading. He never mentioned my spelling or my transitions that never would have passed in his class. He never questioned my wayward ways over the years. He just relayed kind words even when I had been ranting.

He told us to call him Jim. I had to force myself.

Then his comments stopped, and eventually through facebook®™ we learned he had become ill.
One of his former students started a facebook®© page, "We love Jim Hayes," and at his passing this week, 385 people had joined, daily extolling his guidance and inspiration.

Most of them, to my shock, told my story on that page, the story of failure. I wasn't the only one who had gotten an "F" on a story, as I had long believed, or even one of the few. Many had failed, many were summoned to his office. I had been embarrassed to tell my story, except to marvel to a few close people how Jim Hayes had turned my failure into opportunity. I'm surprised I still had my bloody old newspaper stories; I found them in the bottom file drawer at the very back.

"F" instead became the badge of honor worn by reporters who learned their craft under Jim Hayes. That's the real marvel — he set so many people on their careers. People who sing the same praises as a kind but uncompromising man who made his students hold the profession to the highest standard, his standard.

Not just award-winning heavy-duty news people around the world, who are legion and his legacy — and who kept a vibrant relationship with their mentor, whom they called "Hayes." He inspired schlubs like me who found other things to do and tended to call him Mr. Hayes.

In his last days I learned he had been a Navy frogman during World War II in the Pacific Theater, that his dad had been an Associated Press bureau chief. In his last days I traced his long and storied career. In his last days I learned he had a family, a vibrant family that has reached out to Jim Hayes' many followers through the facebook™® page made for him, family that was with him at his death.

Jim Hayes' legacy for me will be his love of words, made beautiful by their economy.

In his honor, I end this post the way we ended our stories for him — old school:


(Donations to the Jim Hayes Scholarship Fund at Cal Poly are accepted online at


  1. I had one of my profs say, "You never get away from your teachers." I think he was right.

    1. this one especially! :)

      and your students will think the same of you.