For this editor, time to hit the road
By Rick Holmes
MetroWest Daily News/Milford Daily News
Jan. 28, 2017
When I was a much younger man, I quit my job and lit out for California and parts unknown. I was looking for America and what comes next.
We were headed back east when the car broke down in the mountains of East Tennessee. I answered an ad in the local paper seeking a reporter, and found my calling. Within a year or two I was writing editorials and columns - in addition to covering news, laying out pages and typing obituaries - and I've been doing that ever since.
I started as a small-town reporter, not a big city journalist, and from the beginning I saw producing a community newspaper as a form of public service.
Back then, the newspaper was just about the only thing that found its way into nearly every home in town. That's what made it a viable business: If you had something to sell or a job to fill, you put an ad in the local paper. It also gave the local paper a special place in the life of the community.
The local paper introduces us to our neighbors. It's a mirror, through which communities see themselves. It expresses and reflects community values. It establishes the facts on which public debates are based. In its pages, the community defines itself, argues with itself, sets its priorities and, most of the time, finds consensus.
That community-building process plays out most importantly in the opinion pages, the heart and soul of the local newspaper. On these pages, everybody gets to have their say, including the opinionated editor. Here at the Daily News, that's the part of the newspaper I've been charged with overseeing for more than 22 years. It's a job I'm now retiring from, which is the occasion for this personal reflection.
I found my way back to my native Massachusetts in the mid-'80s, to what was then the Middlesex News, now the MetroWest Daily News. It was a bigger newspaper covering a larger territory, but the journalistic mission was the same. Whether the community is a small town, a big city, a state or a nation, the job of establishing facts, and providing a forum for public debate remains essential to a healthy democracy.
The last few decades have been hard on newspapers. At papers small and large, a generation of owner-operators sold out to investors hoping to profit from efficiencies of scale. Then technology blew up our business model. With the internet, the newspaper lost its place as the only media going in every door. Starting with the venerable classifieds, advertisers went elsewhere. My newspaper has been downsizing since 1989.
The proliferation of media has its benefits, of course, and newspapers like ours are fighting to survive in the online world. But we're just starting to see what has been lost in transition. Americans don't agree on basic facts like we used to when there were newspapers and just three networks to choose from. There are fewer people exchanging ideas in a common public forum. We live in information bubbles that reinforce our opinions rather than testing them against opposing views.
It's painful to see the industry I've worked in for 37 years wither. But in an unlucky era for newspapers, I've been very lucky. I've survived while others were downsized; I've stayed when others left for other pastures - mostly because I like my job so much.
It's been a great run. I've been able to witness news close-up. I've directed reporters covering big stories and helped opinion writers find their voice.
I've curated an award-winning opinion section for 22 years. I pick what runs, find the art that goes with it, write the headlines, lay out the pages. I've always found it to be a lot of fun.
As an editorial writer and columnist, I've been able to exercise leadership on local issues. I've had the opportunity to say things I've felt needed to be said. Sometimes I've been a lonely voice standing up for someone who is being treated wrong. Those are the moments I will remember with pride.
Thanks largely to the editors I've worked with and the publishers at the top of the masthead, I've been able to write about whatever I want to write about. Our corporate owners have paid my salary, but they have never asked me to write anything I didn't believe.
As the ringleader at our editorial board meetings, I've interrogated political giants, and a few midgets, exploring the issues of the day at depths most voters rarely reach.
As the moderator of our public forum, I've had the pleasure of working with terrific local columnists, of all political persuasions. Some have become friends who know how to disagree without being disagreeable. I've corresponded with countless readers whose letters to the editor are an invaluable part of our paper.
Every writer needs readers, and I've been fortunate to have an audience that has sustained me through good and bad times. I thank all of you for the essential part you play in helping us serve our communities.
Here's another way I'm lucky: I'm one of the few folks in my field who is managing to retire on my own terms and my own schedule. This is my last column as opinion editor for the MetroWest Daily News and Milford Daily News. It's been a great pleasure serving you.
Now I'm getting back on the road where I left off, looking for America and what comes next.
I've long planned to travel in retirement, but I feel a new urgency about it since the last election. I want to bust out of my blue Massachusetts bubble and learn more about what's going on in my country.
I plan to share what I learn with you. After a few weeks off, I'll be back on these pages with a weekly column filed from parts unknown somewhere down the road. It's another fortunate career turn for a lucky journalist who's not done yet.
Rick Holmes, soon-to-be former opinion editor for the Daily News, can be reached at Rick@rickholmes.net. Like him on Facebook at Holmes & Co., and follow him @HolmesAndCo.