For those of you seeing the name and face on this column and wondering, “who’s that old coot?” don’t worry too much about figuring it out, ’cuz I’m leaving.
As you read this, I have moved on as executive editor of The Times. That just means I was the guy who had been around forever and knows how stuff is done, so they eventually put you in charge. Now I’m retiring from newspapers after 37 years in the biz to take a magazine editor position that offers a different pace.
I’ve been content to keep a low profile and toil in the background while others get credit for what we do, from a time when print journalists were read but seldom seen nor heard. That’s admittedly an old-school approach in modern news media where personalities and opinions often drown out the news. Never cared much for that.
I started here as a youthful sports editor in 1985 as Ronald Reagan began his second term. I later moved over to manage the copydesk, those anonymous souls who assemble the pages after dark. After that, I became managing editor, then editor, fancy titles for the same thing: Making the train run on time.
Over the years, I was involved in coverage for World Series, Super Bowls, the 1996 Olympics, disputed elections, terrorist attacks and other era-defining events, all as a distant observer from the squat gray building on Green Street.
Some of you may have dealt with me while submitting items for the daily editorial pages I managed for many years. I also helped write most of the weekly editorials, and though many of the words are mine, the ideas come from a collaboration of those listed at the bottom of the page. I describe my own political ideology as “skeptic.” Rather than lionize any politician as a Great Leader of Our Times, I see them as regular folks who work for us, or should, and don’t need us to genuflect their way when they enter a room.
Perhaps for that reason, many try to pin down whether our page tilts to the right or to the left, the truth being it’s more “all the above.” Newspaper editorial pages aren’t like many broadcast or internet sites that pick a side and pound the drum to that one beat. Instead we try to offer a sample of ideas from across the political spectrum. Perhaps that is another old-school notion that will fade over time.
I leave newspapers for a different kind of journalism after National Newspaper Week, of all times, and find myself reflecting on our profession. You no doubt are aware The Times will no longer print a paper seven days a week at year’s end, instead turning to our digital products to provide news Mondays and Tuesdays when there is no print version. Getting the news that way is no longer the future; it’s now.
Despite the timing, the move is coincidental to my own. I understand and accept the idea of a online news future, yet as one who has worked in print journalism since college, it makes me sad. Like many of you, I still prefer to have a paper in my hand rather than some blinking device. But just as the horse and buggy gave way to the automobile and VCR tapes succumbed to streaming TV, so goes the march of time.
Nevertheless, however we — yeah, I’m still saying “we” — deliver the news, it never goes out of style. People need the information a newspaper provides, even if they don’t always like the stories it tells.
Readers get to decide what interests them most, and if that means taco trucks and wine tastings instead of dusty political stories, so be it. But there’s an important election coming up, and several more after that. It’s a good idea every two years for us all to pay attention for a few minutes to cast an informed vote. Let’s not be content to get all our information from echo chambers of raging comfort that don’t challenge our assumptions.
I leave the newsroom in the capable hands of Shannon Casas, who likes to remind me she was but a toddler when I first started here. She is best capable of negotiating this new media landscape, and I’m confident The Times will be here a long time providing news that matters.
After 33-plus years, there are many people I’ll miss, colleagues and friends, past and present. I’ll mention one briefly: Our co-founder, Lessie Smithgall, who started this paper in 1947 with her husband Charles. When our building was dedicated in 1970, they put a plaque by the front door that reads in part “guided by the constitutional principle of the public’s right to know.” It’s still there, and so is the determination to live up to that ideal. Miss Lessie is 107 now, a wonder of nature and time. I hope the changes coming to the institution she and Charlie started will sit well with her.
OK, that’s more than enough face time for me. Thanks for everything, Gainesville. Y’all be sure to eat your vegetables and read your newspaper. Like ’em or not, they’re good for you.
Keith Albertson is former executive editor of The Times.