At some point, you’d think I’d have gotten it dead solid perfect. Clean as a whistle. Right as rain.
But journalism is no place for perfection. I’ve learned that over the past 46 years.
I can blame deadline pressure or my own shortcomings as an editor or writer. There are always minor omissions, misidentifications or dumb little typos. Simple math errors, mangled quotes or unreliable news sources.
Despite the fly specks, the news business remains utterly worthwhile.
That’s my parting thought. I retired Friday after more than 11 years as executive editor with The Daily Herald. (Yep. This is what reporters call “burying the lead.”)
Journalism is one of those stimulating careers where you can spend decades without falling into a rut. You rarely see the surprises coming.
As a rookie reporter, I moved to a Midwestern farm town, rented a house and reported for work in a small, cluttered newsroom. On my very first day, I responded to my very first police call: Someone had discovered a body.
The city editor drew a rough map, and I jumped into my rusted Volkswagen bug and puttered to the edge of town. The place looked familiar … Hey! This was the house I’d moved into over the weekend.
Sure enough, police were gathered in an adjacent corn field, inspecting the body of a transient who had spent his final hours as my next-door neighbor.
It’s a story I’ve never forgotten, but it is far from the biggest I ever helped write or edit.
Over in Eastern Washington and North Idaho, my colleagues and I had our hands full tracking the misdeeds of the Aryan Nations and an infestation of other white separatists.
In New Mexico, we told the story of how prominent Cold War scientists secretly injected charity patients with plutonium — all in the name of research.
In Seattle, I worked with reporters whose stories freed wrongly convicted suspects, and others who wrapped their faces in wet bandanas to chronicle the chaos of WTO.
Please, drop the fork
The humans roaming the halls of newspaper offices sometimes were as memorable as the news events happening on the outside.
I recall one local editor who was infatuated with a coffee shop waitress. He decided to hire her as a news reporter and then started burning the candle at both ends — waking up early and staying up nights to write all her articles for her. He even nominated her for journalism awards.
And one notorious publisher was known for marching into social events wearing an Air Force colonel’s uniform and recounting his exploits as a wartime pilot. Eventually it was discovered (no thanks to the news hounds who worked for him) that he had never served in the military. His entire resume was a ball of fabrications, waiting to be unraveled.
I’ve worked alongside three Pulitzer Prize winners. One was a 4-foot-11-inch Texan who could be mean as a tax auditor but enjoyed writing poetry in her spare time. One evening, after a harrowing phone call, an agitated local editor darted into my office. The reporter, he announced, had threatened to come to the newsroom with a dinner fork and rip his heart out.
Eventually, I learned, the job of editor requires you to smooth over these minor interpersonal spats. And to avoid calling reporters at mealtime.
What’s not changing
I guarantee that for every scoundrel in a newsroom there are dozens of passionate professionals.
Snohomish County is fortunate to be served by the kinds of journalists who have been my colleagues since 2007.
It is not just that they work long and hard (and they do). And it is not just that they care about the quality of their work (and I know they care). What I appreciate about everyone at The Daily Herald is their faith. In their hearts, they believe journalism matters — the newspaper makes the community a smarter, safer, better place.
During my time here, The Daily Herald has covered some stories that left indelible memories. I can bring them to mind with just a word or two — like labels on file folders: Reardon. Dreamliner. Kimberly Clark. MPHS. Oso. WSU-Everett. Opioids. Paine Field.
My departure is not going to change the kind of work these news professionals do. They’ll keep the faith and continue serving their readers.
These reporters, editors and photographers may not be perfect … but they’re pretty damned good. Take my word for it.