Godspeed, John Lannan

Opinions, Public Relations Posted Oct 11, 2016 by chenpr

When I was attending the University of Southern Maine and working as a reporter for the school’s weekly student newspaper, the Free Press, my wise advisor John Lannan gave me a piece of advice that has stuck with me over the years.


“In this business talent is good, but reliability is what matters.”


He passed that nugget along during one of the (many) weeks when, deadline looming, I was fretting over turning in copy that I thought could use a catchier hook, or one or two more clever turns-of-phrase.


John had the patience of Job and seemed to know exactly when to deliver a comeuppance or a subtle nudge. He’d spent a lot of years selling words as a staff journalist, wire reporter, stringer, bootstrapping freelancer and owner of an award-winning weekly paper. The words in my head, he told me, didn’t help the reader until they were on the page and if I missed a deadline—if I were unreliable—I’d be of no use to any publication. If I burned an editor with late copy it would make the next story that much harder to sell.


Decades later that lesson remains close to my heart, even if I’ve not always been faithful to it. I’ve tested the limits of editorial patience on too many occasions, but when I’m once again fretting over copy that I feel could be better I hear John’s gentle admonition and get the bland words down. Once written, bland words are easier to punch up than those that remain in limbo; bland words do the job better than those that are out of reach.


I lost touch with John after I left Maine for Massachusetts and the pursuit of a career in public relations that he encouraged. Every now and then I’d ask about John but no one I knew from those days at USM seemed to know what had become of him. Thinking about his advice this past weekend when we observed Europe’s discovery of the New World I came across his obituary. John passed away last year at the age of 87.


Sorry I missed another deadline, John. Godspeed.