This week, I’ll spare you the slow build-up and come right out with it: I’m leaving The Seattle Times. And I’m leaving Seattle.
Next month, I’ll start a new job at the Los Angeles Times covering the 2020 presidential campaigns. I’ll be based in L.A. but will have the opportunity to travel around the country to make sense of the candidates, write about the people they’re trying to win over and dive deep into the issues that divide and unite us.
It’s an awkward time to say goodbye on a number of levels. For starters, my tenure as social-justice columnist only began in August.
As I wrote to my colleagues when they were given the news, I feel as if I’m just starting to find my footing in this role and I’m still learning how best to use my voice to amplify stories, issues and movements that tell us something about where we stand as a community and as a nation.
Strange as it might seem to many of you, I wasn’t always so bold about expressing my opinions. That’s because so much of journalism involves the quiet act of bearing witness. Speaking loudly didn’t come naturally to me at first. That’s not how I learned to be a newspaper reporter back in journalism school in Kentucky.
Just the facts. Let the reader decide what they mean. The reporter should never be the story. That’s what I thought made a good journalist.
Time and experience have changed my view on the idea of total detachment. I’m not unaffected by the people, events and conflicts I cover.
The question, of course, has been to balance what I feel or perceive with what I know to be true by way of old-fashioned, gumshoe reporting, rigorous fact-finding, careful analysis and the interrogation of my own notions.
As a columnist, I’ve tried to strike that balance, always with the goal of bringing heart and soul to topics that might otherwise seem academic.
It has come to my attention — thanks to some equally filter-free readers of my column — that my words can come off as overly righteous. I can see that. But what I can tell you is that before I question those in power, or ask you to question yourselves, I put my own ideas and feelings on the stand.
Likewise, I’ve tried to encourage us as journalists to think more deeply about what we communicate to our readers and audiences beyond the contents of our work.
Over the last few years especially, I’ve been more vocal within my own newsroom about how we cover under-represented or misrepresented populations, while encouraging us to improve our recruitment and retention of people of color, women and younger journalists.
Staffers may come and go. I’m leaving soon myself. But the paper’s commitment to those things needs to remain steadfast. Not just because diversity is important to proponents like me but because you deserve a metro newspaper staff and leadership that truly understands — and sees the value in drawing from — the different communities that make our society so rich.
I’m proud to sound righteous about matters like these, at least.
The last week has been a tough one for this newsroom as we process separate accusations of poor conduct by two Times colleagues, one involving sexually vulgar online behavior and another involving racially inappropriate physical contact.
It’s especially hard to appear unaffected by the news when it is your journalist peers who are in the headlines.
What I’ve learned in nearly a quarter century of representing this newspaper as a reporter and columnist is that everything we do — from what we publish to how we behave to the way we respond to criticism to who we hire — is subject to your scrutiny. And rightly so.
Journalism isn’t just about going out into the world to gather the facts. It’s about examining them in the search for greater meaning. It’s also about examining, and reexamining, ourselves.
The last week has prompted many of us at the paper to turn our gaze inward. Self-reflection can be uncomfortable for journalists because we’re more used to putting others on the spot, but it’s essential to our credibility.
I trust that the same core principles imbued in me will guide this paper as it seeks meaning in this moment of reckoning.
As I’ve said before in this column, my values as a person came from the small town that raised me. My values as a journalist, however, were solidified at this paper.
Some of the most talented, humane and upright people I know work here. It has been a privilege to get to know and learn from them.
Though I’ll be gone, you’ll see more from me here in the coming weeks and months, including an upcoming piece in Pacific NW magazine showcasing your reflections about your own hometowns, and an occasional series of special reports on migration and deportation inspired by visits to the southern side of the U.S./Mexico border by me, photographer Erika Schultz and videographer Corinne Chin.
I’ve griped a lot about Seattle in my stories in recent years, but I’m just going to have to be cool with the fact that it has worked its way into my heart.
Your own passion for this place — most evident in your openness, compassion and engagement with the issues — has never ceased to fascinate and move me.
As I settle in L.A. and travel the country in search of the greater meaning in our bewildering politics, I’ll take inspiration from the example of your good citizenship.
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