After 30 years — and four Pulitzer Prizes — David Boardman, executive editor and senior vice president of The Seattle Times, is moving on.
Boardman announced Wednesday he was taking a new job as dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Jenny Durkan, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, said that from investigative reporting that led to the downfall of U.S. Sen. Brock Adams for sexually molesting women, to tough stories on the University of Washington football program and the safety of Boeing aircraft, under Boardman’s leadership the paper did necessary and important journalism.
“A lot of newspapers and a lot of people would be loath to take on the region’s top benefactors and top dogs,” Durkan said. “But if you look at what The Times has covered over the years, you can’t overstate the importance of his commitment to community and investigative reporting.”
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Boardman wiped away tears as he told the newsroom he was departing.
“I am so profoundly grateful … you are the best colleagues that anyone could hope for, and I love you,” Boardman said.
The newsroom responded with a sustained ovation.
Publisher Frank Blethen was equally emotional. “This is worse than when my kids went off to college,” he said.
Blethen recalled that he appointed Boardman to the job of executive editor seven years ago as a severe economic crisis was bearing down on newspapers across the country, including the family-owned Seattle Times.
“I remember saying this is good news and bad news: You are getting your dream job,” he told Boardman. “The bad news is your dream job doesn’t exist anymore.”
Yet even while cutting staff by some 45 percent since, the newspaper went on to win two Pulitzer Prizes in the last three years and numerous national awards.
“When I think of what Dave’s legacy was, it was to save this place,” Blethen said. “If Dave hadn’t saved the journalism, we wouldn’t be here today.”
Blethen’s son Ryan, associate publisher and executive producer for The Seattle Times, said, “It’s definitely a sad day. I don’t think it’s any secret that Dave was the heart and soul of this place.”
Boardman emphasized his decision to leave was a difficult one, born not of concern for the paper’s future, but his own sense that an important opportunity lay ahead at Temple: a chance for, as he called it, “a meaningful second act.”
Some former reporters already in academia said they welcome what Boardman will bring to shaping the next generation of journalists.
“Dave was an extraordinary editor, and that is such an understatement,” said Deb Nelson, a former reporter at The Seattle Times who shared a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for investigative reporting for a project edited by Boardman. She teaches journalism at the University of Maryland.
She remembered Boardman’s first reaction to the prizewinning story about corruption in tribal-housing programs when she started working on it.
“He said something no other editor had ever said to me: ‘Let’s take some time to see if this story is a national story.’ He had a way of elevating every story that came past his desk. And he is going to do the same thing with that communications program at Temple.”
But Boardman was also an executive editor who took the summer interns for a drive each year to introduce them to the city, said Managing Editor Suki Dardarian. “Even when his schedule became crazy, he wanted to do it. He insisted on doing it,” she said.
And it was Boardman, 56, who belted out silly and bawdy songs of his own invention for employees’ going-away gatherings.
Boardman was appointed president of the American Society of News Editors this year and is past president of the Investigative Reporters and Editors.
Martin Kaiser, editor and senior vice president at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, said Boardman was admired nationally for his insistence on quality journalism, even in tough economic times.
“He is recognized nationally for the great work he has done at The Seattle Times,” Kaiser said. “It is easier when times are good. When times are tough, people are looking for leadership.”
Boardman will begin work at Temple on Sept. 1.
No decision has been made about a successor.
“But the one certainty about what is ahead for The Seattle Times is that we will continue to be a newspaper that values investigative reporting and watchdog reporting and great storytelling,” said Managing Editor Kathy Best.
“Those were hallmarks of David Boardman’s era and will continue.”
Lynda V. Mapes: 206-464-2736 or firstname.lastname@example.org