Lessons from a good guy, gone too soon


I've been lost in what Billy Joel would call "let's remember" lately. An old boss / mentor / friend from my sports journalism days died in his sleep on Monday.

His name was Craig Stanke. I know the name means nothing to you, but among sports journalists, he was a giant -- and as good a journalist as he was, believe me, he was an even better person. And he was a healthy 56. Life is so freakin' unfair sometimes.

I won't bore you with the details. You can get to know Stanke yourself by reading the touching tributes that colleagues Scott Miller, Gregg Doyel and T.J. Simers wrote after his death.

I do want to share a few lessons that he taught me -- and that I think all of us can take to heart.

Roll with the changes.
Stanke was a newspaperman to the core. His resume included stops at the Beloit Daily News, the Bradenton Herald, the Clearwater Sun, the Jupiter Daily Journal, the Fort Lauderdale News, the Miami Herald, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Florida Times Union, the Los Angeles Times and the Palm Beach Post. But he was smart enough to recognize the web's promise early on. He joined CBSSports.com (it was Sportsline.com at the time) in 1997, early enough to be one of the true pioneers of online journalism, and he stayed there for the last 14 years of his life.

He also was among the first wave of journalists to recognize the importance of social media. He was particularly inspiring in his use of Twitter, where he deftly molded personal, professional and conversational posts into a fascinating stream of sports consciousness.

The lesson? Change isn't all good, and it isn't all bad. It's just inevitable. Embrace it. Use it. Find your niche. Then be ready to change again.

Listen to your clients.
Stanke loved good journalism. As a result, he was a harsh critic of bad journalism. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel was a frequent target of his. Here's a typical Stanke comment via Twitter: "My local newspaper put Game 1 of the World Series on ... (page) 8C today. Local focus or not, that's not working for me, Sun-Sentinel." And that was one of his kinder rants. You might conclude that he disliked the paper. You'd be wrong. He just wanted the paper to get better.

The lesson? Don't shy away from criticism. Your best clients can sometimes be your worst critics, but only because they care. They're your clients for a reason. They find value in what you offer. They want to keep finding that value, so they'll raise their voices when they don't. The clients you should fear are the ones who don't say anything, even as they walk out the door.

You influence more people than you realize.
I worked with the man for only two years, but in that short time, he made me think, work and laugh in ways that impact me to this day. My life is a little less full now that he's gone. Imagine what the people who really knew him are feeling. Stanke was one of the good guys who knew that anything worth doing -- working, playing, living -- was worth doing well. Examples like that stick with the people you touch.

The lesson? Every connection we make is an opportunity to improve a life. That kind of opportunity is too important to waste.

Thanks for those lessons, Craig. They're just a few of the many ways in which you'll be missed ... and remembered.


Bill Sheridan