A changing industry and a friend’s cancer inspire a big change.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
About a year ago, I started thinking about the next phase of my journalism career and the next phase of my life. Talking to friends, I said all I really needed was a 1,000-square-foot house, with a decent yard where I could plant flowers and vegetables, in a cool town, near water. And of course I would need a job. That was the tough one. Cool jobs in cool places are hard to come by.
Well, this is one of those times when the old adage “be careful what you wish for” does not apply, because I could not be happier that everything I was thinking about came true.
I am renting a small house in Monterey, with a sweet little yard, and have a new job as editor of the Monterey County Weekly.
Friends in Arizona, where I spent the past seven years as an editor at The Arizona Republic, have serious cases of weather envy. That’s not hard to understand, given that I have traded in seemingly unending days of 115-degree-plus heat for cool days and nights and saltwater air.
But there is more to the story, of course. The chance to work at the Weekly, with its terrific staff and dedication to high-quality, meaningful work, was the major draw. That this newspaper covers the people and issues of one of the most beautiful places on the planet was an unbelievable bonus. Sitting on the beach in Carmel a few weeks ago during a house-hunting trip, I thought, “I can’t believe I get to live and work here.”
Though I had a good job, friends and a comfortable life in Phoenix, and it would have been easy to stay, I realized I didn’t want to be there forever. The focus of daily journalism, where I have spent my entire career, has changed dramatically, especially in the past few years. It is easy to blame the Internet, with its instant news, access to anyone and no journalistic standards, for making newspapers less relevant to our daily lives than they used to be.
To some extent, that is true. But it also is true that many daily newspapers have become increasingly corporate and less focused on printing stories that right wrongs, question the establishment and tell readers what they really need to know. Newspapers like the Weekly fill that void and prove that readers do have an appetite for a good story.
Among the proudest moments in my career was running national election coverage in 2004 at The Republic. My political team was bolstered by five extra reporters to cover all the Democrats running for the nomination. We sent reporters across the country to primaries, caucuses, debates and the national conventions. We put out a live, 12-page special section to cover the last presidential debate in Tempe. And we printed an “extra” the morning John Kerry conceded the race to President Bush. Not only was the work an exhausting blast on a professional level, but readers also praised the coverage, saying it was insightful, informative and balanced. Today, I doubt that kind of manpower and money would be allocated for the same depth of coverage.
On a personal level, the final jolt that made me realize I needed to find a new job came with a dear friend’s cancer diagnosis. She’s a photographer/reporter. One day, en route to an assignment, she threw up in the car. Just the flu, she thought, and she went home. A few days later, a CAT scan confirmed she had a malignant brain tumor. Now she is in the fight of her life.
She was my inspiration to leave Arizona. Her situation hammered home to me that life truly can turn on a dime, and if you don’t take risks and embrace change, you stagnate. When the job opportunity came up at the Weekly, I knew I had to take the chance and go for it.
Some background: I am from Mill Valley and began my career as a reporter in San Bernardino and Orange counties, covering cops, courts, county government, labor and local, state and national politics. I got my first taste of editing at The Orange County Register. I became a full-time editor at The Riverside Press-Enterprise, then held editing positions at Newsday, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The Denver Post, where I was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning staff that covered the Columbine High School massacre. It was a proud yet somber day when we won the Pulitzer. From there I moved to The Republic to oversee Statehouse and political coverage, and later became supervisor of the Washington, D.C., and Mexico City bureaus, as well as reporters covering immigration and Hispanic issues. I was promoted to senior editor for national affairs, then moved to a senior editor position on the Business desk, where I supervised reporters covering the economy and big companies, and was editor of a bi-monthly business magazine.
Let me know what you think about the Weekly, stories you’d like to see, issues that are important to you. I look forward to learning about this vibrant county and being part of it for a long time.