Because of the benighted state of local news across much of America, there are far too many ex-journalists around these days.
For a while, I was one. This is my first byline in nearly two years. It’s great to be here.
I’ve joined The Seattle Times editorial board after 15 years of daily newspaper reporting in five states, in circulation sizes from the Anniston Star to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Along the way, I picked up fluency in politics, high-school football, state and federal courts, threats to our environment, and much of the other range of human endeavor that gets described in a newsroom.
It’s the only profession I’ve ever wanted. I started by writing for my Mississippi hometown’s weekly under the masthead, “The only newspaper in the world that cares anything about Itawamba County.” The publisher accepted without investigation my claim to be 16, as state labor law required. By the time I finished high school, I had moved up from feature reporter to Op-Ed columnist.
No other profession had a chance with me. The opportunity to see how the world works, meet new people and tell stories fit too well with my curiosities. I went to Columbia University, wrote news and Op-Ed columns for the campus paper and, one summer day, found Jimmy Breslin’s phone number.
I called the famous columnist looking for advice. He hired me to do his research. Breslin drew lines on the news clippings I brought him to show me how to craft better stories, and what I should’ve been asking in my interviews. I carried what he taught me into my career, moving up the ladder of newspapers to find a permanent professional home. While I was a reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (facilitated by Breslin), I met my wife, who grew up in Kent. Trips to Seattle and the San Juans to visit her family sold me on living here, with an unmatched confluence of great cities, mountains, oceans and forestland to explore.
When the job-search stars aligned, we moved to Tacoma with a young daughter in tow in 2015 and have since had a son. I learned Olympia politics as a contract reporter with The Associated Press, then took an ambitious job reporting in-depth environmental stories with The News Tribune in Tacoma. That newspaper’s downsizing then took its appetite for in-depth environmental stories. Drastic reductions cut more than half the newsroom’s staff.
I took a buyout and found a career in state government to keep the Puget Sound region as my family’s home. Considerable experience living elsewhere made that a well-informed decision.
Then the opportunity arose to have a voice in the future of this corner of America with The Times editorial board. Just as before, I found the profession irresistible. Journalism faces looming uncertainties nationwide — and my government job had both civil-service protection and a pension — but the need for insight and informed opinions is as immense as ever. I’m excited to use what the reporting life has taught me to play a part.