Longtime journalist John Trumbo retiring from Herald

Kristina Lord, Tri-City HeraldOctober 4, 2012 

KENNEWICK, Wash. -- After a 40-year career in journalism, Tri-City Herald reporter John Trumbo is retiring his newspaper notebooks. His last day is Friday.

Trumbo, 65, of Kennewick, came to the Herald in 2000.

He began his career at the Mount Shasta Herald, a weekly in Northern California, making $125 a week. His editor there told him that "her newspaper had a reputation of walking down the middle of street and shooting out windows on both sides," he said.

He filed his stories on a typewriter using carbon paper with newsprint scraps sandwiched between them and "typing very hard to make three copies."

Trumbo said he spent his first seven years as a reporter enjoying the job because he could snag free lunches, attend free sporting events, get his ego stroked with a byline and mingle with powerful people.

He worked for several California weeklies, Neighbors, a twice weekly publication for the Sacramento Bee, and two county-seat dailies, the Auburn Journal and the Grass Valley Union.

That's where he said he figured out the job was "about doing what matters.

"I learned news stories can make a real difference," he said.

He also learned from a fellow "seasoned" reporter the importance of good writing.

"He told me to make it sing. I have over the years made it sing but sometimes you can make it dance too. The thing I like about writing is when it's good, you know it's good. It's like stepping back from a painting: 'There, I'm finished.' "

Reporters and editors who have worked with Trumbo over the years know that he's the first to admit he struggles with writing. "It doesn't come easy to me," he said.

"My natural instinct is to be a reporter. Writing is the hard part of job," he said.

His reporting instincts over the years helped him and the Tri-City Herald earn prestigious awards.

While at the Herald, Trumbo won the 2006 Ted M. Natt Jr. First Amendment Award and three first-place C.B. Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting.

The Natt prize, the first to be awarded to the Herald, was for his stories detailing a program that allowed suspects in drunken driving and other cases to make contributions outside of court to charities to reduce their charges and sentences. In two cases he profiled, suspects had multiple previous arrests on the same charge.

His stories caused the three cities to end their "donations for deals" programs.

A former Kennewick prosecutor and former Benton County contract public defense attorney were federally indicted and pleaded guilty to bribery charges that involved pocketing thousands of dollars of those donations.

Trumbo's work was praised by judges as "an excellent, courageous job of research and reporting on an important public issue done by a smaller newspaper with significant impact." He also won a Blethen for his investigative reporting on these stories.

He also won a first-place Blethen in 2004 for investigative reporting for a package of stories entitled "Not So Public?" He sifted through about 5,200 emails obtained through the state's Open Records Act to find the Kennewick Public Facilities District was improperly conducting business outside of public meetings, holding email discussions on issues related to the $17 million convention center being built in Kennewick.

He also shared a Blethen that year with another reporter for a series on domestic violence deaths.

The gray-haired newsman is known around the Herald newsroom for his penchant for non sequiturs, zippy one-liners and his storytelling.

"John cares about watching out for the little guy. We'll miss his investigative reporting skills and his passion for journalism," said Executive Editor Laurie Williams.

When he retires, he doesn't plan to slow down.

He plans to juggle fixing cars, restoring antiques, repairing his house, finishing installing a heating and air conditioning system, remodeling his 1916 rail car and traveling the country in his RV for home-school experiences for his daughters, both age 14.

He also plans to continue his mission of keeping elected officials on the straight and narrow.

"I will show up at various public meetings to remind public officials that they have a responsibility not to their agency but to the public," said Trumbo. "There's still fire in my belly on that topic."

An open house to celebrate Trumbo’s retirement is 2 to 4 p.m. Friday at the Tri-City Herald, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick.

-- Kristina Lord: 509-582-1481; klord@tricityherald.com

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