When the Eagles broke up in 1980, Don Henley famously remarked that the band would play together again “when hell freezes over.” They ended up reuniting years later.
I felt the same way — in a different context — when I moved to Astoria two years ago to become editor of The Daily Astorian. I’d always wanted to live here, and now I had the chance to lead a talented, award-winning news staff in a wonderful community. I thought this was my last gig before retirement. I couldn’t imagine leaving. Hell would freeze over first.
Well, hell has frozen over.
I’ve accepted the position of Missouri state editor for Gatehouse Media, leading 22 newspapers — 13 dailies and nine weeklies. I’m moving later this month to Columbia, a vibrant college town in the middle of the state, halfway between Kansas City and St. Louis.
I wasn’t looking for a job, but it was an offer I couldn’t refuse.
In 35 years in the news business in seven different cities, I’ve never felt as welcome in a new town as I have here.
This is the kind of community where neighbors flag me down as I drive by to share tips or ask about stories we’re working on.
A community where readers routinely go out of their way to tell me they love the Daily A and appreciate having a robust local paper covering local news. They know many local papers across the country are shutting down, creating so-called “news deserts” where getting credible information about what their local officials are up to is next to impossible for the average citizen.
A community where people care about their heritage and unique quality of life and embrace every chance to celebrate, from the Scandinavian festival to the Regatta to the Clatsop County Fair to the annual FisherPoets gathering.
I will miss the foghorn blasts piercing the mist, and the cacophony of the sea lions rolling down the waterfront. Not everyone feels that way, I know. For me, they are sounds by which I will remember this place.
I will miss picking blackberries in the wild, a cherished tradition from my childhood in Washington state.
And most of all, I will miss the people, from the good folks at KMUN to the awesome ladies in the American Association of University Women who worked with us to organize community forums during election season. The people who have made my time here special are far too many to name individually. You know who you are, and I thank all of you.
A bit about my new employer, Gatehouse. It’s a big company, about to get bigger if the pending acquisition of Gannett is finalized. The combined company will own more than 250 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community publications.
Gatehouse typically cuts staff and runs a leaner operation when it acquires a newspaper, as it did recently with the Register-Guard in Eugene. It has been vociferously criticized for that model.
Many of those criticisms are justified. But what the critics ignore is that most newspapers are in an existential fight for their future. Revenues are plummeting and young people tend to get most of their news online. Newspapers must adapt or die.
Most of the local owners who have sold their publications to the big chains wouldn’t have done so if they were wildly profitable. Steve Forrester and his family, who own EO Media Group and The Astorian, have made the tough choices and remain committed to local ownership. And they have just purchased the Bend Bulletin, Baker City Herald and La Grande Observer in Central and Eastern Oregon to keep those newspapers in local hands.
I have been on the front lines of that existential fight for years now. Hundreds of my former colleagues have been forced out of the business or left in frustration. Those of us who survived and stayed have had to do more with less, often toiling away surrounded by the empty cubicles of their friends.
Veteran journalists like me have a stark choice. We can bemoan the way it used to be and choose another line of work. Or we can roll up our sleeves and try to make journalism succeed in the new reality.
I choose the latter. The Washington Post’s motto, “Democracy dies in darkness,” is more than just a catchphrase. I got into this business because I passionately believe that it’s a higher calling, not just a job.
I will be forever grateful to Steve and his family for the opportunity to work here. I will miss my colleagues at The Astorian and its sister publications.
And I’m looking forward to taking on a new challenge in Missouri.