Off to McCrory’s office, humbled and happy

April 16, 2013 

This is it, my last column for The News & Observer. As Rob Christensen first reported last week, I’ve taken a job with Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration.

I will miss the interaction with readers, which I’ve always considered the most gratifying part of this gig. While praise was always welcomed and criticism often endured, sometimes readers delivered their most insightful wit and wisdom unintentionally.

Like a few weeks ago when a woman praised me for criticizing the General Assembly for sticking its nose too deeply into local government affairs. She wrote that it was odd to agree with me because she rarely gives my opinions any consideration. As she put it, I have no demonstrated area of expertise.

True. I’m not a virtuoso in any subject. Essentially, I’ve been a reader with a column. And that’s been the beauty of this experience. The N&O and McClatchy have allowed me since 2001 to communicate with fellow readers, not as an expert or advocate, but as a peer.

To be worthy of that opportunity, I’ve done my best to provide well-thought-out and researched opinions, approaching these column inches in the same manner a lawyer prepares and presents an argument. I’ve tried to keep the rants to a minimum. Above all, I’ve wanted my work to spark people to think about my position. I’ve strived to, at the very least, plant a seed of reasonable doubt in the beliefs of those who started reading one of my columns with an opposite point of view.

With those standards as measures, I would like to think I’ve won more cases than I’ve lost.

Column writers have to develop a thick skin, and some I’ve known (although not at The N&O) ignore reader feedback and input. I haven’t done that and, at times, have paid a price. My support (and continued support) for the Iraq War drew some of the most vile, personal insults I’ve ever read or received. But the one that stung the most came from a reader who accused me of being a testosterone-fueled Chicken Hawk with no regard for the young American lives that would be, and were, sacrificed.

That wasn’t true then, and it’s not true now. My concern for our military is the main reason I now favor conscription. If everyone had skin in the game, there is no way a president would gather enough political capital to wage a decade-long war. It’s a national sin that we are producing young people whose only professional experience is fighting war.

Readers have also produced humbling moments. The highest compliment I’ve ever received came from a father who told me he read one of my columns to his family at the dinner table. That’s incredibly high praise for the piece I wrote about how the Enron debacle showed that more people than we would like to think would eagerly sacrifice personal morality to produce a better business deal for a corrupt company. The decline of our cultural ethics is also a national stain.

Since my next professional assignment became public, I’ve been asked whether I will miss The News & Observer. The answer is no, because I’m not leaving The N&O. Only the column is going away. As it has been for nearly 20 years, this newspaper will always be a part of my daily life. Writing a column has never defined the value of the paper to me. Being a newspaper reader has always been a part of who I am.

I’m more confident than ever that newspapers will be around for a very long time. In fact, don’t be surprised if they enjoy a resurgence. As alternative media increasingly use vitriol and resort to attention-getting celebrity news to maintain their bases, I believe more people will turn to newspapers for some sense of objective fact finding, thoughtful and diverse opinion, and, above all, trust.

Newspapers will always be part of our communities. I’m proud to have played a part.

Reach Rick Martinez at

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