Man, I didn’t realize that writing my final “Wearing Thin” column would be so difficult. What a time to get writer’s block!
So I’d better just keep it simple. Today (this was written last Friday) is my last day as editor of The Athens NEWS, and finishing this column is my main task. I’m leaving The NEWS and its owner, APG Media of Ohio, on good terms. That’s also the case with the newspaper’s associate editor, Conor Morris, who has accepted a newspaper job in Cleveland as part of the Report for America program. (Conor, who appears in the program roster at that link, will be here till later this month, and I’m betting he’ll write a goodbye column then.)
That’s some kind of change when a two-person editorial staff loses two people, both within three weeks of each other. It’s potentially devastating when you consider what a great team Conor and I have been since he joined the paper six years ago upon graduating from Ohio University.
But I have good news for you. We’re leaving The Athens NEWS in very capable hands. Sydney Dawes, until now editor of The Vinton-Jackson Courier and a staff journalist at The Athens Messenger, takes over as editor of The Athens NEWS. Last I heard, Sydney had an impressive pool of associate editor candidates from which to choose.
One thing you learn working for newspapers, big and small, is that nobody is irreplaceable. Another thing you learn is that it’s not a bad thing for a newspaper to undergo change. The Athens NEWS will be different under Sydney Dawes’ new team, but I expect it will continue as a vital news source for Athens and the Ohio University community, while taking on the personality of its young and energetic new staff.
IN THE SPRING OF 1986, my wife Melanie, daughter Amity and I moved to Athens so I could take a job as associate editor of The Athens NEWS, which I remembered as an unruly, muckraking underground newspaper (The Athens “A” News, “the ‘A’ is for Alternative”) that began publishing in spring 1977, during my final academic quarter at Ohio University.
Coming from a mainstream newspaper background, working for a string of small dailies and weeklies in the Ohio Valley and Rocky Mountain West, I was skeptical about the whole “alternative” newspaper schtick. And many Athens NEWS readers returned that skepticism with gusto. For years – for decades! – I’d hear the annoying refrain, “The A-News isn’t alternative like it used to be.” Conor says he saw somebody post a comment to that effect a few weeks ago. Good grief.
That sort of empty nostalgia used to drive the paper’s founder and longtime publisher and owner, Bruce Mitchell, crazy. He’d respond by dryly recalling the early days of the paper, when hardly anybody sold or bought ads, and the young, poorly paid staffers lived in grungy student hovels starving on ramen noodles and store-brand mac and cheese. He knew that wasn’t sustainable and did what was necessary to usher the newspaper into financial prosperity, even if it meant jettisoning some of that underground vibe.
Bruce always cared about delivering the news and shaking up the town, though, and whatever differences we might have had, we always agreed on that.
The A-News has continued over the years, with an ever-changing roster of editorial staffers, to publish in-depth and balanced community journalism, a wide range of good, local opinion writing, crackerjack photojournalism, and a finger tracking the pulse of our town’s entertainment scene.
Since we became eligible to compete in the Ohio News Media Association’s annual weekly newspaper awards in 2015, The NEWS has cleaned up every year, winning Newspaper of the Year twice. We came within a few votes of winning it again this year.
Watch the paper as it takes on the personalities and sensibilities of its new editorial staff, and I think you’ll be happily surprised. At the same time, from what I understand, Sydney Dawes intends to retain popular features such as the weekly “What’s Happening” calendar and “The Athens Voice,” our regular cartoons, among other attractions. Sydney now has the paper’s main email addresss, email@example.com, and will forward any email meant for me to my private address, although you can also just email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AS FOR ME, I’VE been thinking about moving on for a while now, and am excited at the prospect of taking on new career challenges while enjoying partial retirement. By the time you read this, I’ll have traversed nearly a week without having to worry about news content. I haven’t had that sensation since around 1981, and am not sure how that will feel. I sure hope it feels good or else I’m in big trouble!
The worst part of leaving now is knowing that I’m departing smack in the middle of the biggest story of my career, the pandemic that has up-ended American (and global) life like no other crisis in living history. This is a story that you're living whether you're covering it or not.
And, yes, the coronavirus played an essential role in my decision to leave. As a high-risk individual both for reasons of age and an underlying health condition, I could no longer fulfill the requirements of this job. For one example, a two-person news operation can’t afford to have one member who’s constrained from covering public events. For me, not being able to actively cover the news kills much of the fun of local journalism.
But that's OK; I’ve been wanting to do something different for a while now.
Before Wearing you all way too Thin, I need to thank all of the hundreds of people I’ve worked with at The A-News since arriving in April 1986. Many of these incredible people became lifelong friends, and through the magic of social media (it’s not all bad, Dennis), I’ve managed to keep in touch with lots of them.
One of the best parts of the job was working with and mentoring hundreds of Ohio University journalism student over the years. We gave them training, and their energy and skills helped make us a better local newspaper.
Special appreciation goes to the great associate editors whom I’ve worked with, the ones who gave the paper many years of their lives – Jim Phillips, Nick Claussen, Dave DeWitt and last but not least, Conor Morris. (I kept trying to hire women, believe me, since my own most effective and yes, beloved, mentors in college [mainly Dru Evarts] and early in my career were of the female persuasion.)
Well, I’ve gone on long enough.
Please keep reading the paper, and please keep patronizing the advertisers who appear in the paper. They need your business now more than ever.
And need I mention, YOU HAVE NO EXCUSE NOT TO PICK IT UP – THE DAMN THING IS FREE!