The Influentials, Part 4

John L. Micek – Opinion Editor, PennLive/Patriot-News

Barack Obama was a frustrating interview, because “he had the message of the day, and he’d be damned if he was going off it.”

Hillary Clinton was “funny, engaging. Sharp. Very sharp.”

As for the sit-down with George W. Bush, John L. Micek canned his softball questions and asked if Bush thought that God had spurred him to run for the presidency. From there, things “went sour really quickly.”

“But the next day, there was a piece in the Lancaster paper about how he’d done a stop with some Amish or Mennonite farmers and had spoken at great length about how his faith informed his political view and his worldview, so I felt some measure of vindication,” says Micek today.

In those days, Micek was a reporter. Since 2012, he has been PennLive/Patriot-News opinion editor. The shift to the editorial side taught him to corral his self-described “combative instincts” – at least, with the media-consuming public, as he learned to engage irate callers in dialogue, not confrontation.

In the “perfect storm of strangeness” that has been the 2016 election season, Micek avoided “chasing the outrage du jour. The real challenge is trying to take that stuff, place it in its proper context and explain in a broader way how it affects voters, how it affects their lives.”

He is “a bit missionary” about today’s civic-minded media organizations serving as a platform for facilitating community change. PennLive’s 2014-15 #HBGNext initiative combined reporting, editorializing and forum- and job-fair-hosting to “do some measurable good in our community, not as leaders speaking from the top down, but rather engaging with readers to help them solve their problems.”

As for that community, the Connecticut native with a peripatetic career has put down roots since coming to Harrisburg as capitol correspondent for the Allentown Morning Call in 2001.  The lifelong musician, whose “Morning Coffee” news analysis and roundup closes with a music clip, plays in two bands for “the art and the friendship and the hanging out.” Same with his involvement in the Harrisburg running community.

“It’s given me a whole sphere of friends and colleagues who are outside of journalism, which is always tremendously useful,” he says.

Micek, sporting a scruffy look for Movember, recalls the day his 11-year-old daughter was distraught because the loss of her last baby tooth meant no more visits from her special tooth fairy, Mandy. That night, Mandy left a sachet bag holding all the teeth collected over the years, plus a note saying “how proud she was of her and what a big girl she had become, and how she’d always be there looking after her.” The next morning, his daughter came bounding downstairs, clutching the note and the sack. “Mandy came!” she said through her tears.

“Mandy came! She left me a note!”

And as Micek sees it, “It’s those little moments of magic and innocence, in the midst of all this sort of cynicism that we write about on a regular basis, that help you see the world through fresh eyes.”