This ended up being an awfully long two-year stint in a career I never planned.
After 26 years at the Tri-City Herald, and more than 40 years as a journalist at three different newspapers, I’m retiring.
No regrets; deadlines don’t permit those.
Journalism found me after several other majors that I tried in college, from forestry to sociology, didn’t stick.
A professor who saw promise as I rose through the ranks to editor of the college paper gave the recommendation that led to my first professional job.
The rest just happened, and I came to the Tri-City Herald in 1985 for what I figured would be a two-year stay.
As John Lennon so wisely wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
At the Herald, opportunities happened, a community became a family home and co-workers became family. I passed through different reporting beats, a stint on the copy desk, six years as city editor, then assistant managing editor and, for the past 11 years, managing editor.
There are many war stories from a career spanning typewriters to Twitter.
In 15 years as a reporter, I exposed fraud, shenanigans and incompetence, but my favorites were stories about otherwise unexceptional people doing exceptional things.
I stood toe to toe with a 6-foot-7 state trooper trading professional insults, apparently the first reporter to gain his respect and eventual trust. I cried with a woman dying of cancer as she talked about her last-chance grasp at an experimental, and eventually discredited, treatment.
I marveled at a businessman as he quipped that a bankruptcy scam almost killed his business but was in the end a good thing because it had made him a whole lot smarter. I joked with a 92-year-old, very coarse logger as he told me how foolish he felt after falling off the roof of his house, the home where he was born, while nailing shingles.
As a newly minted city editor, I was tossed into the fire with the Chernobyl meltdown, which put the Tri-Cities economy into a tailspin but ultimately was its savior.
And there were many other big stories that I helped lead a talented staff in covering, among those the infamous Pasco body shop massacre in 1987; the crash of a commuter airplane at the Tri-Cities Airport the night after Christmas of 1989; the 200,000-acre Hanford fire in June 2008; the massive flooding of February 1996; our prize-winning deadline coverage on September 11, 2001, when within a few hours we produced a special edition telling Mid-Columbians what was being done to protect them.
Journalists struggle to tell these stories and others, to help people understand their world. Doing an effective interview and writing a story well and on tight deadline is an imperfect art that takes years to develop.
In 25 years helping Herald reporters craft stories, I have pressed to make sure we did our best to listen and try to reflect our community’s best values, while also not ignoring its worst.
Because of that, we exposed scams from crooked car sales to a pastor milking his parishioners while claiming he was a reformed Mafia hit man — when in fact he was a wife killer and parole violator.
We uncovered attorneys stealing from the public under the guise of forcing donations to a youth recreation program, and we unraveled a complicated bankruptcy scam that was funding Mideast terrorism.
A Herald probe detailed how outlaw farmers had flaunted environmental laws and contributed to several deaths. And our investigation into why the Yakima River was so badly polluted helped bring rules that cleaned much of the contamination from a river the Indians had named for its crystal-clear waters.
Those stories came because we insist it’s what our readers deserve. It’s why I am proud to be a journalist.
Herald reporters learn to be precise, to ask the right questions, to find new ways to get information, to persist when officials try to withhold public information, and to not be boring.
They learn quality journalism — or they go somewhere else.
Literally hundreds of awards, including several prestigious national awards and some 35 top regional awards, have delivered peer recognition for these stories and others we have done.
But the many appreciative comments I’ve heard from those we helped have meant more. Thank you for those.
I leave as some say newspapers are struggling — some say dying. For ink on paper, that may be the future. But the industry is fighting to adapt and provide information in other ways.
I hope it succeeds, not only for the dedicated co-workers and friends I leave behind, but also for the stories that should be told.