The essence of The Seattle Times really isn’t about the 10 Pulitzer Prizes we’ve won. It’s not about our traditions of great storytelling, investigative reporting and visual journalism. It’s not even about our ability to navigate the flood of change that has swept through the newspaper industry.
It’s all about our people.
For the past two weeks, I’ve thought a lot about that as I’ve walked around our newsroom, saying goodbye. I’m retiring after 43 years as a journalist, including 32 years at The Times and the past three as the executive editor. I’ve talked with dozens of colleagues as my time here winds down, reminiscing, thanking them, talking about what’s next. I’ve snapped photos and shared my feelings about them in person and in a virtual scrapbook on Facebook.
I came to The Seattle Times as an eager young editor determined to prove myself and make my mark on this place. I leave here grateful and humbled, a better journalist and person for having learned so much from so many.
Somewhere along the way my focus changed from inward and upward to outward. This place and these people can do that to us, as long as we’re open to listening, learning and working hard.
I was 33 when I arrived here, and everything around me is different. Our stories are delivered on a website, then promoted across social media, none of which existed when I was hired in 1987. Our print newspaper is still going strong, despite doom and gloom in our industry, but now apps, newsletters and podcasts deliver our multimedia stories and products to readers 24/7.
Even the way we cover news has changed. Smartphones with cameras replaced landlines; laptops, PCs and instant messaging replaced the typewriters and dictation I once used to cover everything from high-school sports to the inaugural Seahawks and Mariners games back in the 1970s.
I’ve changed, too. My kids grew up while I worked here, and I met my wife and many of my best friends within these walls. And I learned along the way that this never was about me at all. It’s about others — and the stories we tell.
Some of the stories are unforgettable and the reason we became journalists: the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Oso mudslide, dying orcas, Boeing 737 MAX and a Seahawks Super Bowl championship. We’ve won countless national awards, including six Pulitzers while I worked here, and are recognized for not only great journalism, but our culture of collaboration and innovation.
Still, it’s all about the people.
We reinvented ourselves, painfully at times. We evolved from a print-only afternoon daily to a morning paper with a fledgling website to the multimedia company we had to become to survive. I used to smile when I saw someone reading The Seattle Times on a bus or in a coffee shop, because it was proof that people read our stories. Now sophisticated analytics show us everything from how many of you read our stories to which stories led you to subscribe. It’s mind-blowing for a soon-to-be-retired 65-year-old grandpa, but it’s also empowering.
And yet the journalism never changes. Analytics exploded a few myths, but also reinforced some things we already knew. Many of the deep-dive stories that are part of our mission to readers are what you want most and why you trust us enough to come back. We focus not on clickbait but on stories you value enough to pay for with a subscription. In an era of “fake news” and media consolidation, we’ve doubled down on telling the truth and staying independent. Our laser focus on good journalism and subscriptions is why I’m confident the newspaper the Blethen family has owned for almost 123 years will continue to evolve and be around for decades to come.
What is the root of The Times’ transformation? Again, it’s all about people. None of this could happen without me and my colleagues reinventing ourselves.
Somehow the small-town kid from Idaho landed his dream job, Seattle Times sports editor, and guided that department’s digital overhaul. Even crazier, that led to a new job beyond my wildest dreams, executive editor of the largest newsroom in the Pacific Northwest.
Over the past three years, we added the second and third of our innovative community-funded journalism projects and are poised to launch a fourth, The Seattle Times’ Investigative Journalism Fund. We accelerated a digital transformation in the newsroom and company that helped triple our digital-only subscriptions. We redefined our newsroom’s vision and mission. We redoubled our efforts on diversity and inclusion in our coverage and on our staff. We still have far to go, but I am optimistic we’ll get there.
Together we’ve made all these changes happen, as a newsroom and as a company. And readers like you continue to recognize our value and support us.
To change our culture we have to be willing to change ourselves. So as I walk out the door of The Seattle Times for the last time, leaving this newsroom under Michele Matassa Flores’ capable leadership, the people who accomplished that seismic shift are what I will remember most and what I never really will leave behind.
After all, it’s all about people.
Thank you for the privilege.