As Edward R. Murrow would say, “Good night, and good luck.”
Carol Burnett would sing, “I’m so glad we had this time together.”
Then there was Dan Rather’s enigmatic sign-off: “Courage.” (Which is a bit less weird than “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” Why do TV news anchors go so wrong so often?)
What I’m getting at is this: You’re looking at my last column for The Durango Herald.
That will drive some of you to tears, others to celebrate, and some to just wonder, “Um, who is this guy?”
In any case, I will say it’s been a pleasure, an honor, to serve this community via the media for a long, long time. Southwest Colorado is a great place with caring people, and I believe it has a great future. That’s why I plan to stay here. See, you haven’t gotten rid of me yet!
You got a break from me for a few months a couple of years ago when I was city editor, but other than that, I’ve been writing this piece for 17 years.
It went like this: After a few years in the sports department, and with the blessing and faith of former Managing Editor Dave Staats, I wrote my first front-page “human-interest column” for the March 20, 1998, newspaper. I was nervous, didn’t know exactly how it was going to work, and I couldn’t have imagined I’d still be doing it this far into the 21st century.
My first column was on the groundbreaking for the ice rink that all you skaters take for granted today. My second got around to stating a purpose. An excerpt:
“This column proposes to underscore issues and problems and triumphs and oddities by spotlighting the people involved. They may be decision-makers or unemployed, natives or newcomers, hard workers or fun-hogs.”
During those 17 years, over an estimated 800 columns, I’d like to believe it’s done that.
If it has, then I have dozens, perhaps hundreds, of readers and friends to thank. See, I didn’t come up with most ideas on my own. They came from phone calls, conversations on the street, email suggestions. They kept coming – for much longer than I believed they would.
In fact, they’re still coming. So that’s not why I’m leaving the Herald.
I’m leaving for a couple of reasons. One is that the business has changed over the years, and the focus has become less on writing and more on creating audiences. It’s a difficult time for journalism, and it ain’t easy to survive out there. Writing and editing, the two things I really like to do, are just not as valued as they once were. Getting things done quickly, posting on the Web immediately, now is crucial.
If it sounds like I’m whining, well, I probably am a little bit. But this new paradigm isn’t all bad for the consumer. For instance, if schools are closed, or if there’s a road accident blocking traffic, or if there’s a fire, it’s good to know all that quickly. In keeping with the times, the Herald is becoming adept at supplying words, photos and video almost instantly.
So maybe this is a good time to say: Please keep supporting your local media. Keep challenging it to give you stories on important issues. Make sure local media provides some depth and insight, too. That’s going to make this a better place for everyone, and like I said, I plan on staying here.
The main reason I’m leaving is that it’s just time for another challenge. Maybe I got too close to the Buddha when I went to Nepal, but it’s become more apparent as I’ve reached my 50s that life is ephemeral. Maybe the Buddha didn’t quite say it this way: “You’ve gotta be brave and try stuff.”
So I’m putting into action an idea I’ve had for many years. I plan to write for hire – call it freelance if you need to – with a focus on family biographies. My plan is to help people who don’t have the time, or perhaps don’t have the wordsmith or other technical capabilities, put their family histories into a document that can be shared through the ages.
My website isn’t quite up to speed yet, but you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The business is John Peel’s Life Preserver.
Sorry if that sounded like an ad. It was, but it was also an attempt to answer in bulk a “what’s next?” question that (I hope) many people in the community will be asking.
A few more quick thank yous: To my wife/editor, Judy. To all my co-workers for putting up with me over the years and challenging me constantly. To the Ballantine family for the opportunities and for continuing to believe in good journalism and a solid community newspaper. To everyone who shared their often very personal stories with me. And, I think I’m repeating myself here, to great friends and a great readership that supported me and lifted me up when my energy ebbed.
As the dolphins in the Douglas Adams book said, “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”
As Casey Kasem said, “Keep your feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars.”
My best sign-off and advice is this: “Never back up farther than you need to.” (Great advice. Think about it.)
Well, th-th-th-that’s all folks. See you around.