John McCartney, longtime editor at Herald, dies at 64

He was responsible for the newspaper’s national and international “wire” news report.

John McCartney

John McCartney

EVERETT — If you’ve relied on The Daily Herald for your diet of national and international news over the years, you know the work of John McCartney.

McCartney was for years the newspaper’s “wire editor,” a job description born in the Morse code and telegraph era. He reviewed the voluminous stream of national and international news from The Associated Press and other news services, and selected not just the most newsworthy articles but also the stories Herald readers would find most interesting and relevant to their lives.

McCartney died Tuesday in Seattle after a series of recent health struggles. He was 64.

He “had an impeccable sense for what readers would want to see in their papers,” Jon Bauer, the newspaper’s opinion editor and a longtime colleague of McCartney, wrote on Facebook.

McCartney “could gather and prioritize those stories whether he was expected to fill 10 pages or just two,” Bauer wrote.

Despite the hectic pace, ever-looming deadlines and personality clashes common in newsrooms, McCartney never lost his cool or his upbeat demeanor, colleagues remembered.

“I never once heard him raise his voice in anger,” Bauer wrote.

Growing up, McCartney lived with his parents for nine years in Libya, where his father worked in the oil industry. After political unrest there forced Americans to leave, the family settled in Idaho, where McCartney finished high school.

After graduating from Western Washington University with degrees in journalism and communications in the mid-1970s, he worked in public relations for a hospital before embarking on extensive travel that took him to, among other places, a kibbutz in Israel.

McCartney started his newspaper career in 1982 at the Odessa American in Texas. He moved on to the Billings Gazette in Montana and the Peninsula Daily News in Port Angeles, where he was managing editor for six years. He joined The Daily Herald’s news copy desk in 1998.

Even as changes in the news business reduced the prominence of non-local news in The Herald, McCartney enjoyed the new challenges of editing for the digital medium. He was an early adopter of tools that show which articles are the most read on The Herald’s website. He was adept at writing headlines that generated unusual spikes in web readership while maintaining traditional journalistic values of fairness and accuracy.

“Whenever a story on was picked up by the Drudge Report or whatever, it was often because of John’s headline,” said Mark Carlson, McCartney’s longtime supervisor at The Herald.

“John was serious about journalism and serving Herald readers,” Carlson said. “He took pride in doing his work with thoroughness, craft and care.”

Survivors include his sister, Babetta Kobersteen, of Bellingham, and his former wife, Jacqueline McCartney, who had become his companion again in recent years and who confirmed his death.

A sociable man who enjoyed winding down at his neighborhood pub after putting the paper to bed, McCartney also had a keen interest in genealogy. In his research, he discovered that he was a distant relative of California Gov. Jerry Brown — who is a genealogy buff himself.

At Brown’s request, McCartney met with the governor in Seattle in 2015 to exchange family photos.

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