Sandy Schauer’s life as a News-Bulletin cub reporter, 1971-1974
(La Historia del Rio Abajo is a regular column about Valencia County history written by members of the Valencia County Historical Society since 1998.
The author of this month’s column is the author of many books about New Mexico history, including “Casey Luna: A Colorful Life in Business, Politics and Motor Sports Championships,” available for sale at the Belen Harvey House Museum, the Los Lunas Museum of Heritage and Arts and Amazon.com.
Opinions expressed in this and all columns of La Historia del Rio Abajo are the author’s alone and not necessarily those of the Valencia County Historical Society or any other group or individual.)
Last week’s edition of La Historia del Rio Abajo described Sandy Schauer’s arrival in New Mexico, education at the University of New Mexico and hiring as a cub reporter at the News-Bulletin.
After all the turmoil she witnessed at UNM in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Valencia County felt like a welcome island of serenity.
As at every small-town newspaper with a small staff, Sandy received every kind of assignment. At one time or another, she reported general news, covered sports, wrote obituaries, took photos and penned editorials.
Interviews and editorials
Sandy knows that behind every written story there is a story about what it took to produce it. The reporter’s skill is to make it all seem effortless when we, the readers, sit back and enjoy our newspapers.
Sandy does not recall many famous celebrities visiting Belen and being interviewed in the early 1970s. Probably the most famous celebrity that Sandy interviewed for the News-Bulletin was a woman pilot who happened to stop in Belen when her RV needed repairs.
By the time she arrived in Belen, 67-year-old Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran was the most accomplished female pilot in the country. She was, in fact, the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier and held more speed, altitude and distance records than any other pilot — male or female.
Sandy interviewed another adventuresome woman, a nurse from Australia who worked at the Los Lunas Hospital and Training School. Having visited many parts of the world, Elizabeth Burchill had written three books about her interesting experiences. Referring to New Mexico, Burchill told Sandy, “It’s beautiful. It reminds me of Australia. Big cities bother me.”
Sandy was honored to interview Jackie Cochran and Elizabeth Burchill, but liked interviewing local residents as well. Local people willingly shared their stories and helped Sandy learn not only about their lives, but also about their unusual interests and personalities.
Sandy interviewed Denis Cowper, likely the most unconventional attorney in Valencia County history. A brilliant man, Cowper had many hobbies, from learning languages (he knew eight) and butterfly collecting to hunting for new kinds of cacti.
Sandy’s article on Cowper included a photo of him with a picture of a cactus called “Poverty” because no other plants could grow around it.
Sandy says covering political campaigns and elections was always a challenge. Many campaigns were contentious, with mudslinging to the final days of each contest. Sandy had enjoyed her political science classes at UNM, but what she learned in the classroom did not prepare her for the rough-and-tumble politics of Valencia County.
Sandy’s hours at the newspaper were unpredictable, especially on the nights when the paper went to press. Sandy recalls the last thing she had to do before a paper was printed was to call the Romero Funeral Home to check to see if there were any new obituaries that needed to be included at the last minute.
Sandy had to stay up most of each election night, waiting for voting returns to come in from as far away as Fence Lake to the west, when Cibola County was still part of Valencia County.
Sandy also wrote her share of editorials, often about issues of great concern to her as well as to the community. In one such editorial, she wrote about the importance of wearing motorcycle helmets, as required by a recently-enacted law in New Mexico.
Sandy reported that some police departments stopped motorcycle riders for not wearing helmets, but seldom ticketed them because they did not want their officers spending time away from their jobs when the cases went to court.
Sandy reminded her readers of the tragic story of two brothers who were not wearing helmets when their motorcycle crashed just north of Belen. The 12 year old died at the scene. His severely injured 14-year-old brother was transported to the hospital.
The wisdom of wearing helmets to protect one’s brain seemed self-evident because, as Sandy wrote, “without the brain’s recuperative powers there is little chance of survival” in any accident. The controversy reminds Sandy of the current resistance to wearing masks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An old-fashioned newsroom
Sandy remembers the old News-Bulletin office, located east of the old U.S. post office on Baca Avenue, as technically primitive compared to newsrooms of today.
Long before the invention of word processors, all work was done on manual typewriters, with copy editing done by hand.
Sandy recalls Carter Waid was the fastest two-fingered typist she ever knew. Sandy also remembers that Waid seldom carried note pads and often returned to the newsroom with notes on a story jotted on pieces of scrap paper and even paper napkins.
No matter how he took his notes or typed his copy, Waid was a fine reporter and publisher. While Sandy learned most of her craft on the job, she also learned from her news editor, Lil Lou Waid, and Carter Waid himself, who always cared about the quality of his final product and its value to the community. It didn’t matter how long it took to cover a story. The goal was to get it done and do it accurately and fairly.
Sandy admired other members of the News-Bulletin staff. In addition to her supervisors and fellow reporters, she admired the essential work of craftsmen who set the type at the rear of the building. Reporters came and went, but these craftsmen often remained on the job for their entire careers.
And then there were the newspaper carriers. Sandy remembers a woman named Susie Gallegos who delivered stacks of newspapers to local stores twice a week for 20 years or more.
Sandy enjoyed her years as a cub reporter at the News-Bulletin. She learned a lot, respected her fellow workers, made good friends and, in the process, decided to make Valencia County her permanent home.
Sandy was rewarded for her efforts with many awards, now compiled in a large scrapbook, along with copies of her articles.
As early as 1972, she earned two blue ribbons at the Valencia County Fair — one for her photography and one for her banana nut bread, made from an old family recipe.
Professionally, she won awards from the New Mexico Press Association for her sports photos, in both 1972 and 1973.
Like many reporters, Sandy felt the need to move in new directions after three years with the News-Bulletin.
In 1974, she joined the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) as its director. She enjoyed this valuable work, but decided to return to the newspaper business in 1977, this time as an advertising sales person.
She soon became the head of the sales department and did so well that she earned more awards from the New Mexico Press Association for her success. She remained at the job until 1991.
Sandy remembers her early years as a cub reporter fondly. Of all her jobs, she considers being a cub reporter among the most interesting and satisfying, although the job never paid well, usually exceeded the normal 40-hour work week and could be exhausting.
Some readers complained when you didn’t write a story from their perspective. But Sandy learned that you can’t write to satisfy everyone. The best a reporter can do is to get a story right, meet your standards and contribute to your community’s wellbeing.
Sandy is amazed by how much the newspaper business has changed in the last 50 years. Computers have replaced manual typewriters, teletype machines and editing with pencils. Reporters can do much of their work on their computers from home. Newspapers are no longer printed at local plants and shipped out from local offices. Online editions are now available to those who prefer them to printed versions delivered to their homes.
Like many of us, Sandy worries about the fate of our print media, especially newspapers. Newspapers play an essential role in our social, business, political and cultural lives. They are the communication links that bind communities together in good times and in bad.
Newspapers help to make us better citizens, especially when it is time to have our voices heard in letters to the editor and, with informed decisions, at the ballot box in democratic elections.
With responsible journalism, newspapers provide far more accurate information than much of what we read on the internet, where few writers can claim to know, no less follow, the high professional and ethical standards of true journalists. Going to many internet sites to learn the news is like going to a medical doctor and seeking knowledge about one’s illness from fellow patients in the waiting room or in the parking lot.
Sandy still reads her weekly print edition of the News-Bulletin. She likes to keep up with what’s happening in our community. And, more than most folks, she realizes all that is required to research and write each and every story in the paper, no matter how much time, determination and perseverance each news item takes.
Sandy’s appreciative readers in Valencia County thank her for the skills she honed, the standards she adhered to and her years of exceptional reporting in the community she still calls home.
Richard Melzer, guest columnist
Richard Melzer, Ph.D., is a retired history professor who taught at The University of New Mexico–Valencia campus for more than 35 years. He has served on the board of directors of the Valencia County Historical Society for 30 years; he has served as the society’s president several times.
He has written many books and articles about New Mexico history, including many works on Valencia County, his favorite topic. His newest book, a biography of Casey Luna, was published in the spring of 2021.
Those interested in joining the Valencia County Historical Society should contact Dr. Melzer at [email protected].