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Mesa Musings: Tough editor became patient professor

March 22, 2011|By Jim Carnett

When Orange Coast College hired Tom Murphine in 1985 as a journalism professor, I winced.

He'll scare students away!

I'd seen "Murph" at work in the Daily Pilot newsroom. With rolled up sleeves, a no-nonsense demeanor and smoldering pipe jutting from his jaw, he could be intimidating — not unlike Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post.

He was the Pilot's superb managing editor for years. He was respected, admired and feared by reporters. I saw him on several occasions toss a sheet of copy back at a reporter and demand a rewrite.

"You're better than that," he'd say.

An Orange County native, Murph was the first baby born in the original San Clemente Hospital in 1929. His grandfather was San Clemente's first mayor, from 1928 to 1934.

Murph, a Laguna Beach High School and San Jose State graduate, served in the U.S. Air Force. He worked with the Pilot for two decades, joining the staff in the 1960s. During his tenure he mentored scores of reporters, editors and photographers. To a person, they were grateful for the experience.

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I first met Murph in 1971. I was a recent Cal State Fullerton communications grad, and was working as an assistant in OCC's public information office.

It was my occasional duty to drop photos and press releases off in the Pilot newsroom. Reporters would frequently instruct me to "take that to Tom." So, with great foreboding and reluctance, I'd enter his office.

"Hello, Carnett," he'd rumble in his rich baritone, without looking up. He'd thrust out a hand: "Let's see it."

Murph would grunt and take a pull on his pipe. "That the best photo you could come up with?" he'd quip. Then he'd examine my copy.

"The third graph. What were you trying to say?"

While an OCC staffer during the 1970s and '80s, I worked many nights as a Pilot stringer, covering local high school football and basketball games. Occasionally Murph would be on the desk when I'd return to the office to file my story. He was always congenial, but also always an editor.

I remember he once complimented my work … and I couldn't help but beam with pride.

As good an editor as Murph was, he was an even better writer. For years he penned a popular Daily Pilot column, Just Coastin', and always referenced our particular shore as "the best of all possible coasts."

By the way, he wouldn't have countenanced for a moment Orange County's recent "The OC" label. Too slick!

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