My 10-year tenure as editor of SEJournal is coming to a close.
By MIKE MANSUR
In May, I was laid off from The Kansas City Star as a daily journalist. I had spent 25 years there, about a decade of that as environment writer. And I accepted a position as communications director for the county prosecutor. So a new world of dealing with the media and making a whole lot of crime news in Kansas City has begun. I can tell you that it’s actually quite fun, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn how great it is to view all those years of reporting and investigative training in a wholly new way.
But I knew that it would be best for SEJ if its quarterly journal continues to be edited by a working journalist, especially someone covering the environment or a related beat. So I offered my resignation to longtime colleague and a wonderful promoter of the SEJournal — Robert McClure, who serves as chair of SEJournal’s editorial board.
I have to begin any farewell by thanking a lot of key SEJournal contributors. For years, SEJ has produced a high-quality quarterly journal mostly on the kindness of our members and friends. For years, key staff members have led the way. Linda Knouse, Bill Dawson, Roger Archibald and Cindy MacDonald have sweated, argued and laughed over every comma, caption and image in each issue for years. And regular feature editors, including Robert McClure and Cheryl Hogue, have coaxed contributions, some of them for far too long with little more than a “thank you” or a pat on the back.
Many key past staffers and supporters will not be forgotten, including Noel Grove, Adam Glenn, Orna Izakson, Russell Clemings, the late Kevin Carmody and Denny Wilkins.
I also owe many thanks to Beth Parke and Chris Rigel, who for years have offered good advice, encouragement and support.
And there’s the hundreds of contributors who took time out to write a short, or sometimes long, story about their latest reporting adventure or a how-to on using Excel or public documents. Thanks, thanks, thanks.
I was just at this point in writing this farewell (about midnight on a Saturday in late August) when a strange thing happened. I became, at least in my mind, a victim of climate change. Another violent storm — there have been a lot of them this summer — took down a tree limb in my backyard, severing a power line and setting my garage on fire. The electrical surges from the downed wire also flowed into my house on the electrical circuit connecting my home power to the detached garage. And that fried a lot of the electrical wiring, not to mention the 200-amp box.
Joplin, Mo. Reading, Kan. The cover headline of the last issue of SEJournal told the story of journalism, too: “Darkening Skies.”
Indeed. I understand the warnings. No particular storm can be attributed to climate change. But after one hits you, during a summer of cruel storms, the most violent in recent memory, you can’t help but feel a bit like a victim of climate change. Now, several days later, I’m recovering and wondering about the future. The darkest of storms has descended on journalism as I learned it. Metropolitan daily newspapers, once the backbone of the nation’s news production, have withered to conditions once thought unthinkable. The environment beat has suffered, and local news consumers are left without the basic fare.
“He must have felt that he had lost the old warm world,” Fitzgerald wrote of that frightening moment with Gatsby expired, in a swimming pool, no less.
Yes, but I’m already over being sad about it. It’s time journalism gets over it too.
Like the storm that hit Joplin, there’s no undoing the devastation that has hit journalism. No, you can cry over it. Even for days. But at some point you stand up and you recover. You pick up the first bit of debris, then more.
You rebuild ... you remake.
It’s time to buck up and get on with it. For those who intend to plug on, working at this business of trying to report what’s happening, capture the most significant developments of our day and, maybe, convey to readers/viewers/listeners something thought-provoking, riveting, moving or instructional, let me stand up and clap for you as loudly as possible.
I hope to rejoin your ranks in some way some day. I’m greatly occupied now with a whole new view on the world, working closely with the county prosecutor on issues like violent crime, neighborhood prosecution and restorative justice. It’s a lot of interesting and important work, and I’m finding that years of reporting about your hometown can be very valuable in creating new programs to improve that community.
So take some solace. You can always fall back on something like my new gig. But please don’t give in easily.
I have faith that the uncertain future that I’m certain every journalist worries a little about each day will be built on the same old sound foundation: Good journalism eventually wins.
That doesn’t mean that a lot of good journalists, even great ones, don’t fall in the quest. That doesn’t mean that the public won’t lose sight of what credible journalism looks like. That doesn’t mean that many owners of news outlets won’t totally forget their duty. And that doesn’t mean we won’t all have moments of doubt, maybe even fear, of the future.
But hold onto those traditions that made modern journalism so important. Use them to create your own bright future.
Remember, if someone tells you something, check it out. That goes for editors, too.
And remember nothing is stronger than family. The SEJ family is like no other I’ve seen in journalism. Help each other. Cheer each other on. And hold on tight to one another. It will be a bumpy ride. But imagine the stories you’ll have to tell about it.
All the best, and thanks so much.
From the quarterly newsletter SEJournal, Fall 2011 issue.