Community says farewell to longtime Olympian writer
It is true. I’m ending a 30-plus-year career at The Olympian and moving on to new adventures — activities yet to be invented.
I may end up on the far side of the world, or I may just stay home and write, grow oysters or even do something crazy like teach yoga.
So wish me luck, but don’t worry for me.
I’ll be staked as I venture out with a company buyout. That should give me room for error before I hit the magic age of retirement – whenever that is.
But why quit now at the height of the era of fake-news accusations?
Mainly because I can and because I won’t get another chance to change course this easily.
My body, mind and soul are in rare, full agreement.
As it turns out, decades have passed since my last big overseas wanderings. It was those travels — along with the sterling leadership example of one Richard M. Nixon — that gave shape to my life’s trajectory.
By twists and turns, I came home to Olympia, truly bent toward the light of journalistic truth.
The lights have dimmed at times like a sector brownout. Our industry’s downsizing over the past decade has been a disappointment and even a threat to professional journalism in Olympia.
But it hasn’t killed my hope. Or the dedication and talent of my soon-to-be-former co-workers.
In fact, the fact-starved world — which I never saw coming 30 years ago — has helped me to see that journalism has never been more important. Which is why I may not leave it.
The truth is also that I met my future wife in a newsroom, and we raised a terrific, smart and caring son.
And I spent a satisfying career with words, ideas and the people of my hometown who are still engaged in governing a shared world – with all the challenges that implies.
The chance to play a role in the life of my hometown (to “commit local journalism”) has kept me going.
Although I once said I didn’t want the editorial job, the statement was not completely accurate. I’d really wanted to do editorial writing as a young journalist. When The Olympian sent my wife Virginia Painter and me on a loan to the USA Today newspaper in 1987, I would sneak upstairs to the editorial page offices, and the editors let me in for a few board meetings.
Later, back in Olympia, I became the editorial understudy to Dean Shacklett, then editorial editor. I filled in during his vacations – and I continued for several years in that role after Mike Oakland became editor of the Opinion page.
For years, I watched Mike endure its awful, grueling schedule with aplomb.
Four years ago, the opportunity to return to Opinion arose, and frankly I had already set my heart firmly on reporting by then.
It wasn’t an easy adjustment to drop my true calling — reporting — and move into opinionating.
But I worked through the heartbreak. I found new life editing the Opinion page first full-time, then half-time — mainly writing opinions the past two years.
I’ve written virtually all of The Olympian’s in-house editorials since 2015 – close to a thousand of them.
Through it all I’ve tried to remember what former colleague Bob Partlow used to say about legislators new to the Capitol: “Some people grow and some people swell.”
I tried to grow, but only readers can say if they agree.
I just hope I am stepping back from a forward-thinking community that has a better idea of what is wrong in our world and what we can do about it.
And that we go about our business in a more thoughtful way than is the alternative in a newspaper-free world.
Yes, I know I’m leaving behind a struggling newspaper, and I feel bad I won’t be doing my share any longer. But I can’t wave a wand and fix any of it.
And readers must understand: The Olympian has few personnel, but we do have very dedicated and talented local journalists who are still holding a torch with scant resources.
Dusti Demarest, Abby Spegman, Rolf Boone, Steve Bloom and Tony Overman will carry on amid the onslaught of misinformation that besets every community today.
It is time for me to take a true break, to let my rambling spirit out of the yard again, reset my compass, and maybe try a different journalism for a while.
The paper is hosting a sendoff for me at 4 p.m. Friday at The Olympian’s new offices at 522 Franklin St. SE. Then some of us are headed to a watering hole to celebrate.
If I don’t see you at those events, happy trails, all the same.
Thanks for the memories. Thanks for reading. And thanks for supporting local journalists in Olympia.
As we say on Twitter: #ReadLocal.