DeWayne Bartels was one heck of a newsman
He died the way he wanted to, working on a story.
His wife found him sitting on the floor of their home, hunched over his laptop.
DeWayne was a former co-worker of mine at the Peoria Times-Observer. He got his start in journalism at the former Tazewell Publishing Company, which later became Times Newspapers, which were later bought out byGateHouse Media, the same outfit that owns the Peoria Journal Star, the Pekin Daily Times and practically every other daily and weekly newspaper of note in West Central Illinois.
He was described by the Journal Star as a “stalwart” of journalism. That’s a word only a newspaper would use. But it’s accurate. I’d describe him as “irreplaceable.” He was one of those journalists who wasn’t trained to be a journalist. You could tell from his writing. He would often back into the subject of his columns and his stories, as if he had to make a point of explaining why he was writing about something.
As his editor, that drove me nuts. ‘Get to the point, DeWayne,’ I’d think.
But that was the only complaint I had about the guy.
He wasn’t trained in college to be a reporter, but he had the best reporter’s instincts in the field. Reporters can easily fall into a rut, where they start thinking it’s their job to do two stories a day, so they better play nice with their sources and not rock the boat too hard. DeWayne was convinced it was his job to tell stories, and he didn’t really care if it made his sources sore or not. And he had a serious case of wanting to stand up for the little guy. This made him the enemy of very powerful and entrenched politicians. *cough* Kevin Lyons *cough*.
Did you know he helped get a guy off death row in Texas? True story. He was arrested for delivering newspapers in Creve Coeur. He’s been threatened by Illinois Nazis. He’s been slapped and hit with boards by reluctant interview subjects. He’s been called a son-of-a-bitch by politicians more times than I can count.
This is strange because he was the most mild-mannered reporter I can think of. He looked sort of like a former hippie. He smoked like a chimney, though. Huge Alice Cooper fan, too.
He worked as the editor of the East Peoria Times Courier. But he lived with his family on Peoria’s venerable East Bluff neighborhood. He was a good neighbor, working to keep his home on New York Avenue clean and kept up. In fact, the last time I ran into him, it was at a neighborhood meeting over the “roundabout” the city was building just down the street from his house. He wasn’t there to work on a story. He was just there as a concerned citizen.
And when I called him “irreplaceable,” I wasn’t kidding. No newspaper company is going to hire a guy like DeWayne off the street any time soon. They want college grads who can start churning out usable copy right from day one. Who cares if they have no reporter’s instincts? People like DeWayne are starting blogs.