I’ve had enough of the spotlight to last me a couple of lifetimes, so the notion of aiming it one more time toward my big, shiny noggin was something I wanted to resist. But Ned Barnett, editorial page editor, thought my retirement next week after 31 years on The News & Observer editorial board warranted some final thoughts from me. My theory is that he wants to reassure people I’m really gone – or perhaps it’s a chance to answer those folks who run into me at the Players Retreat in Raleigh or other places and ask, innocently, “So, are you still working?”
“Thanks, yes,” I’ll say, “and I really appreciate your fanatical devotion.” I’m kidding, of course, and so are they. Long ago, I learned from the late Jack Aulis, a legendary columnist here going back more than 40 years now, that not taking oneself too seriously wasn’t just a saying. It was the key to sanity. Jack, when he moved on to another job, wrote a column quoting an old New York editor writing about retirement and listing all the virtues of a great journalist – good looks, brilliance, insightful analysis, personal magnetism. The editor concluded: “And when he is gone, some people remember him ... for several days.”
Yep, that’s about right, and that’s not false modesty. We do not operate here with the conviction that we’re right all the time, and we’re hardly shocked if something – a vote, a directive from a governor – doesn’t go our way. Well, OK, the Trump thing maybe was an exception.
But the opinions are arrived at honestly. And we always try to follow a golden journalistic rule passed on from a previous generation: If you write an opinion – a strong opinion – about something, but you’d be embarrassed to run into the person who is the subject of that opinion the next day, then do it over. Don’t change your opinion if you’re sure, but do it over.
We also try to avoid being, as one previous boss put it, “negative about every doggone thing.” With the aforementioned fellow in the White House, that’s a bear of a goal. But Barnett and I, in columns and in editorials, try to find some good news here and there.
For a number of years now, I’ve tried to write at times about other people, non-famous people who might be viewed by most as ordinary but possess a form of extraordinary courage and strength. Those are the people who define us.
I always think – again and again and again, whenever I’m angry over something a politician or hard-core ideologue of one sort of another has done – of a young mother I used to see now and then at a shopping center or a grocery store, demonstrating an amazing love and patience in taking care of her child, who had noticeable special needs. I thought, if I could but transfer a single ounce of her compassion and dignity to all others, including myself, our torn-off corner of the universe would be mightily better.
But I’ve been surrounded these last 30-plus years with good influences, including people in all departments here at 215 S. McDowell St., from the folks in advertising who bring in the revenue that makes the rest of us possible to the obituary people who through their grace help people in the most difficult of times to the multimedia experts who help us send our work out on multiple platforms.
Finally, a word about the news and editorial people I know best. They’re typically idealistic, not necessarily liberal or conservative, united in a belief that what they do can make a difference for good, committed to getting things right, and worried about the same things all of their readers are worried about – kids in college, aging parents, grandchildren, mortgages. The critics who speak of “media elites” are wrong, just wrong. There’s nothing elite about it. Just hard work by righteous people.
I’ve had 45 years in “the business,” and now will engage in consulting and perhaps some teaching and playing with a band I helped found, “Rode Hard the band,” and it’s time for all that. I have worked with four publishers, Frank Daniels Jr., Fred Crisp, Orage Quarles III and Sara Glines and with three editors, Ferrel Guillory, Steve Ford and Ned Barnett, and in every case, they’ve had my back. I could not have asked for better.
So, that’s it, then. Woody Guthrie said it best: “So long, it’s been good to know you.” And it has been.
Deputy editorial page editor Jim Jenkins can be reached, until Jan. 26, at 919-829-4513, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.