Full disclosure up front — this one's personal.
Typically over the past 10 years we've tried to run commentary about local, state, national and occasionally international issues in this space, but this time, it will have to serve as a way of saying farewell. After overseeing by rough count about 525 issues of the Manchester Journal since June, 2006, it's time for this editor to pack it in and take the toolbox elsewhere.
Having the opportunity to be in some small way the steward of a now 155 year-old community icon has been among the most rewarding and gratifying experiences I could have hoped for. This is a town — and a region — that never seemed to stop churning out interesting ideas, initiatives and — dare I add — conflicts which rarely left me or staff members totally out of gas. There was always something going on. And I'm pretty sure there always will be, given the fascinating interplay between folks who have family roots here stretching back generations, and those who called somewhere else home not long ago. Few towns in Vermont, or maybe anywhere, have the cross-section and cross-pollination of arts, education, business and cultural issues colliding in quite the way we do here.
I have deeply appreciated the support I have received from so many people in the community and hope that the newspaper we produced week by week was a fair reflection of the town and the area. I know we — and I — made a few mistakes along the way. I like to think they were relatively rare and that we learned from each experience that didn't play out the way it was intended. I hope we produced a newspaper that was informative and interesting to read. That was the goal. Some issues were a lot better than others. I'm sorry for all the typos, mis-spellings, mangled syntax and run-on sentences. I read over some of the copy from years past and grimace. We tried our best, week in, week out.
On a broader level, these past 10 years have also been among the most dynamic, exciting and disruptive in the news industry since the first broadsheet was printed. Everyone knows how the internet and social media have turned what was once a solid, reasonably profitable business into one that now anticipates creative destruction — or is it destructive creation? — hiding behind every tree, Mirroring the challenges imposed on the news industry by the vast forces unleashed by the digital age, The Journal has been pulled, sometimes willingly, sometimes not, into the brave new world of online "content." We live in a community where the typical reader is somewhat older than the national average, and is used to obtaining news the old-fashioned way — in a newspaper. We are also seeing more and more people accessing information via smartphones and hand-held tablets, and we can all see how each are "trending." Trying to deliver news and information in a timely manner, while covering all the bases, has been at times a hair-pulling exercise, but also left you feeling that whatever else was going on, you were on the cutting edge of it all.
Being in the news business means having a license to get involved in all manner of issues and discussions. What other job offers this? One day the hot topic might be affordable housing; the next week it's the dog park. Different issues and dynamics all the time, alliances forming and dissolving; and as a reporter or editor, you have to get up to speed on all of it, quickly. Restless curiosity and an interest in anything and everything that drives human behavior is what makes this job work, and those who have that streak will be endlessly rewarded. It's often been hard for me to recommend to some of the younger writers and would-be reporters I've had the fortune to meet over the years to encourage them in good faith to consider a career in this field, given all the changes that have occurred and will no doubt go on occurring. But a talented, dedicated and hard-working free press is needed now more than ever, given the break-neck speed at which information is gathered and disseminated. This is not easy work, but it is more important than ever.
Looking back over these past 10 years, the issue that most stands out in my mind was one we did for the 150th anniversary of the paper in 2011. Charles A. Pierce, a publisher from Brattleboro, launched The Journal shortly after the start of the Civil War, to both support the Union cause and bring information from the battlefields to the folks back home. In his footsteps followed many superb community-minded editors and publishers, such as D.K. Simonds, Otto and G.Stewart Bennett, and Gayle Gall. As part of the 150th anniversary project, it was endlessly fascinating to read through old issues from fifty or 100 years ago, and appreciate what the paper was like and the way the towns were back then. I only wish I could have done that reading at the start of my time here, to have had that fuller sense of the interaction between paper and community. Nevertheless, that issue, and the research that went into it, ranks as one of the best moments of the whole journey.
In closing, I want to thank everybody who ever worked here during this past decade. All of them, whether they were here for a few months or many years, gave their all. In many ways, it was the staff who made this the most fun. Bouncing ideas off of colleagues, getting their reactions — it was all good --- even when none of you agreed with me.:)
I also want to say a special thank you to the First Congregational Church of Manchester Village. In the run-up to our move out of our old home on Memorial Avenue, it wasn't immediately clear where we would be hanging our hats until Rev. Gordon McClellan offered us space at the church. He and his staff made us feel welcome right from day one. And in one of those remarkable twists of fate that you can't make up, this relocation brought us back, literally, to the origins of the paper, which first began publishing in a building on nearby Union Street in the Village. Each day, I could walk past the offices where the Journal was published from the 1860s to the mid-1950s, and feel the connection, while hoping we were living up to the legacy.
It helped to keep in mind the words of Charles Pierce, the Journal's first editor and publisher, who in Vol.1, No.1, stated the following:
"The country newspaper as we view it, is eminently a popular institution. It should not be conducted purely for personal or mercenary objects, nor should it seek to create or control public opinion, but also to furnish the means by which public opinion may find utterance. It is our desire, that in due time, this Journal may become the medium for the expression of the best thoughts on those subjects, which from time to time may interest the community."
I hope we did our part to help realize that aim, in the time we were given.
Thank you all for reading, writing letters, returning phone calls and being quotable.
— Andrew McKeever