Newspapers, Taos, Writing

I’m Outta Here

It’s official: I am leaving my job as the managing editor of The Taos News on May 5. I’ve been at it for nearly eight years. It’s time for a change.

I began working as a journalist 31 years ago, when I was a correspondent for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, one of the oldest dailies in the nation. I reported on the town where I lived, Worthington, population 1,400.

Worthington, a hill town in Western Massachusetts, had a surprising amount of news. The first lesson I learned is that I’d better get my story right because it was likely I would run into that person the next day at the general store.

At the start, I had to write my story on a typewriter and drive 40 minutes to the newsroom so someone could type it into the paper’s computer system. Then I was given a Radio Shack laptop that showed seven lines on its tiny screen. I plugged it into the phone jack to send my story and called to make sure the editor got it. Over the years, technology improved until now the web is a vital reporting tool.

Eventually I added several hill towns to my beat. I attended meetings (my favorite was the venerable Town Meeting although a Worthington Board of Health meeting about pigs was a close second). I wrote features and columns. Occasionally there was breaking news, typically a house fire. I did get big stories to cover like the closing of a nuclear power plant. I even went to the White House to interview Tony Lake, who was national security adviser during Bill Clinton’s first term and a Worthington resident.

I am grateful for the opportunity to report on those towns. I had to listen to the way people talk and observe how they behave. That’s been a great help for my fiction.

I became a line editor, then a copy and special sections editor at the Gazette.

As for managing editor of The Taos News, I sort of fell into that job. After Hank and I moved here in 2006, I freelanced for the paper before I was hired as its copy editor. After a year, I became the managing editor.

It’s not an easy time for newspapers. Reading habits have changed — moving from fiber to cyber. During my time as managing editor, I’ve watched many newspapers struggle to keep readership. Some have folded. But The Taos News remains strong.

Taoseños are engaged in their community, and frankly there is nowhere else to get the news our staff reports. I like to think the editorial team covers the heck out of Taos County. (I will miss my colleagues.) Of course, a paper can’t continue without the business side working hard as well. And to keep things on the up and up, a firewall exists between editorial and advertisement.

And those in the industry must feel we are doing right things because the paper has racked up numerous awards, including best weekly in the nation for six of the eight years I’ve been here.

While it has been a fulfilling job, it hasn’t been an easy one at times. I’ve been expected to write hard-hitting editorials and make political endorsements, which has often displeased folks. I’ve been sworn at over the phone. Once a group of critics holding a protest outside the newsroom over coverage chanted my name.

Fortunately I have a thick skin.

On Friday, the paper held a sweet party in my honor. As part of the sendoff, the editorial team created a fake front page for me. It’s hilariously funny with inside jokes. I plan to frame it for my office.

The only parts I will share are the banner headline: “Editor’s exit a boon for ill-behaving officials” and the cartoon, Bill Baron, created above.

The May 5 paper is my last. This week I am working with my replacement to show him the ropes.

Some people who know I am leaving the news biz have asked what I plan to do. I will concentrate on my fiction and other writing projects that have already come my way. We will stay put in Taos but be able to see our family — we have six grown kids and a granddaughter — that is spread around the country more often.

It’s been a great ride, but now I will be going in a different direction. Or as Joey, one of the characters in my novel, Peace, Love, and You Know What, says about Lenora, who is graduating and splitting for Europe: “That’s right. She’s outta here.”

PHOTO ABOVE: Bill Baron, political cartoonist for The Taos News, created that cartoon for me. Bill has been my co-conspirator on the paper’s op-ed page.