Jim Hemig: ‘Ackerman must go’ | TheUnion.com

Jim Hemig: ‘Ackerman must go’

Jim Hemig Publisher The Union
John Hart/jhart@theunion.com | The Union

Last night I attended Jeff Ackerman’s retirement party.

All the top brass from The Union’s parent company, as well as current and past publishers, joined in to send Ackerman, The Union’s former publisher, off into retirement.

The company’s president provided thoughtful accolades about Jeff’s career with the company, his wonderful writing ability and his business acumen. He then offered the floor to the retiring publisher from Oregon.

Ackerman thanked everyone for making the trek to Truckee to wish him well.

Jeff had a long run here at The Union. In that time he made a lasting impression. Some people loved him, others loathed him. And I got to follow this guy.

Then he proceeded to playfully spout, “Jim Hemig’s first week in Grass Valley, he called asking why the company finance guy keeps asking him about his itty-bitty.”

Everyone burst into laughter.

Itty-bitty? So now I’ll be known in the company as the itty-bitty guy. Thanks, Jeff.

Ackerman was referring to EBITDA or Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization, which is company-speak for “profit.”

Yes, Jeff, I know what EBITDA is.

Typical Ackerman. He had to lead with a laugh. And that set the stage for a fun evening.

The Union has been around for 151 years.

In that time there have been many great publishers. Some were immensely successful, such as Robert Ingram, Jack Moorhead, Peter Starren, and even The Union’s first publisher, Henry Blumenthal.

If I’m counting correctly I am the 13th publisher. Some people say the number 13 is unlucky. Others have told me it’s lucky.

Either way I fight the daily battle of publishing a community newspaper. Like all the others before me, I always do my best to inform and entertain.

And then there’s Jeff Ackerman.

Jeff had a long run here at The Union. In that time he made a lasting impression. Some people loved him, others loathed him. And I got to follow this guy.

Well, not literally. Dave Schmall was publisher between Jeff and I. I bet Dave felt my pain, too.

Getting out and about my first week on the job I was met with, “Do you know Jeff Ackerman?” or “I hope you’re no Jeff Ackerman” or “You’ll never replace Jeff Ackerman.”

Heck, this happened even the same day as this retirement party when I presented to the Penn Valley Rotary. I was sharing the latest and greatest happenings at the newspaper and when I mentioned Ackerman the room lit up and hands were in the air. I was upstaged by a guy who’s been gone for more than four years. Thanks, Jeff.

Even in the office I was bested by Jeff’s legacy. I’d come up with a column idea, a feature story idea, an advertising idea or a community benefit idea that was usually followed by, “Jeff already did that.”

Curses, Jeff Ackerman!

Ackerman’s legions of fans continually remind me that I’m no Ackerman when it comes to my writing or to my community involvement.

Then there is Jeff’s equally large contingent of haters who warn me to avoid emulation, which I believe prompted the bumper sticker exclaiming, “Ackerman must go” that I find all over the office.

Even today, the local blogosphere still can’t avoid praising or admonishing Jeff’s time at The Union. I laugh at the back and forth banter criticizing and defending someone long gone from our community.

But filling Jeff’s shoes isn’t easy. Heck, taking over his office isn’t either. His tilted and flat chair is the most uncomfortable in the whole building. Maybe that’s why he never sat very long?

Jeff did have a knack for writing a column, though. Some of his best efforts were brought up at the retirement party.

While publishing the newspaper in Incline Village on Lake Tahoe, Jeff reported that the sea serpent “Tahoe Tessie” was active and might eat dogs along the shoreline. On the first of April.

Ackerman also received a message from then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger regarding a column Jeff wrote. Not many publishers can claim that.

Another column Ackerman published in Carson City prompted the local sheriff to visit Jeff’s house one evening after a few drinks. As the story goes the sheriff was “loaded” in more ways than one.

Then there is the infamous office altercation that took place at The Union after Jeff took a stand against drug abuse during a particularly sensitive time in our community.

Whether you loved Jeff’s writing or not, you have to admit he got to people.

Jeff’s community involvement was also legendary. I never met another publisher who can claim to have broken a rib in a destruction derby, got drenched in a dunk tank, wore an elf’s outfit and, of course, started a massive breast cancer fundraiser — all to support local community needs.

Ackerman left a lasting impression in western Nevada County. But the Jeff Ackerman I knew started way back when we worked at adjacent newspapers on the north shore of Tahoe.

Jeff was at Incline; I was in Truckee. We never worked together in the same office, but we ended up sitting side-by-side at more company-wide meetings than I care to admit. Jeff would always lean over and make some smartass comment. I’d giggle and the boss-at-the-time would look at me glaringly, making me feel like a grade-schooler busted for talking in class. Thanks, Jeff.

While we both were stationed near Tahoe, we drove way out to Ely, Nev., with a gaggle of company publishers to the Nevada Press Association’s annual meeting. I was new to the company and got stuck with driving duties while Jeff and others drank beer and played poker in the small RV. Back then we newspaper folks lived the high life. Sure a corporate jet would’ve been nice, but a borrowed RV seemed like more fun.

We arrived in Ely after a day-long drive. If you don’t know where Ely is, leave it that way.

Jeff had the wisdom to proclaim, “Let’s get a drink” after the long day of poker and drinking, and proceeded to accidentally march us right into a brothel next door to the hotel. If I recall correctly, we decided not to mention that to anyone. Thanks, Jeff!

I moved to South Lake Tahoe; Jeff to Carson City. Then I went to Oregon and Jeff to Grass Valley. Me to Colorado and Jeff to Oregon. We seemed to shift around the company, unintentionally missing each other until I landed in Grass Valley and he retired in Oregon.

Jeff has always been helpful. I frequently call him looking for ideas and inspiration ­— but mostly for a laugh. Anyone who knows him will tell you that keeping him to one topic is literally impossible. I’m even hoping to guilt him into writing a column or two for The Union readers to relive the “good old days.”

The news business will miss Jeff Ackerman. I know I won’t, because people won’t let me forget about him. And I know I can call him anytime to ask about my itty-bitty.

To contact Publisher Jim Hemig, email jhemig@theunion.com or call 530-477-4299.

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