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.