Reflections on George Hostetter: He walked his way into Fresno journalism history
I add my voice to those of dozens of journalists, readers, elected officials, power brokers and friends who have been remembering George Hostetter since his passing on Thursday, May 7. My favorite tribute comes from GV Wire’s Bill McEwen. (I love that he includes the tale of George’s “105,001-Word Junior College Football Story.”)
The former Fresno Bee reporter and Fresno State professor was kind, which made him fun to be around, and indefatigable, which made him an utterly determined reporting partner. My big adventure with George was coverage of the demise of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum. He had covered the issue so thoroughly — and had hoovered up the arcane details of that fiscal fiasco so determinedly and efficiently — that by the time I joined him, he’d earned a master’s degree in the Met failure, also known as An Achingly Stupid Way to Lose $30 Million and Hobble Fresno’s Cultural Scene for Decades.
Here is a little secret of journalists: Often we feel woefully unprepared when we’re thrown into deadline coverage of a complicated subject, particularly one in which we don’t know all that much. (And, because reporters are inherently generalists, that is a common feeling.) I can’t describe how good it felt to have George’s know-how about financial stuff and insights into city politics as a backstop.
No matter how bizarrely the story twisted — and how tempted I was to become irritated at the egregious errors in judgment we were writing about — there was George, genial but dogged, keeping me grounded.
Others in recent days have extolled his many qualities and quirks: his love of Kit-Kat bars; the way he’d give you a mini-salute when he passed you in the office hall; his mountains of yellow legal pads that betrayed his deep-dive into whatever he was covering at the time. I’d add to that his common-man approach when interviewing a reluctant or pretentious source. By asking folks to, in a sense, “dumb it down,” he kept them from being able to obfuscate their answers with empty platitudes and bureaucratese. He kept sources on their toes.
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And there was the walking. I loved spotting George on one of his walks across Fresno. I could recognize his gait at 40 mph. (I also often felt vaguely guilty, because he was getting exercise and I wasn’t.)
I last saw George about a month ago on one of my walks to a mostly deserted Fig Garden Village. He was with his son, Kirk, who was pushing him in a wheelchair. It made me sad because I knew how much George loved walking — he’d sometimes venture into my neighborhood from his nearby — and how important it was for him to experience his city as a pedestrian, not from a car. But I was glad to see that he could still get out and about. As we stood there at our required social distances and talked about teaching, er, Zooming at Fresno State, it was good to reconnect with that essential Georgeness. I regret that I wasn’t able to give him a hug.
I’d been so busy with work this week I hadn’t heard this.
George was a throwback to the days when being a reporter meant something, when getting to the bottom of a story was more important than getting something quickly printed.
I loved having him on the City beat, in the courthouse trials for days at a time, and when he’d do his terrific features, like the time he rode the city bus everywhere to discover the inadequacies with the system.
He’ll be missed greatly by those who knew him, but in today’s insta-information age we may never see a reporter of his caliber again.
There will always be great writers and columnists. But George was an example to journalists everywhere.
A few years ago Kip walked to my house which is 7 or 8 miles from his home in July when it was 100 degrees and more. Of course he walked in the hottest part of the day. He interviewed me for a couple of hours on the COS-FCC story he was writing. I begged him to let me drive him home but he would have nothing to do with it. A couple of glasses of water later he walked back home. He was a wonderful, great person…..R.I.P. my friend…….