It is traditional for columnists and writers to pen that last good-bye column. And in this day and age it’s not unusual for editorial page writers to call out the ownership of the papers they work for — The Denver Post editorial board did so famously back in April in a piece headlined, “As vultures circle, The Denver Post must be saved.”
But The Register-Guard‘s recently departed editorial page editor, Jackman Wilson, did not get the opportunity for his final say. In the print and web pages of the RG, at any rate. After realizing the new editors and ownership were not going to run his column, he gave permission for his final screed for the daily paper to be shared on social media. Former mayor Kitty Piercy’s post alone has more than 200 shares as of Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 11.
The RG was purchased by GateHouse Media earlier this year, and week by week the pages have shrunk and longtime reporters and editors — Saul Hubbard, Ed Russo, Christian Wihtol — as well as local copy editors, have left or been laid off. As Wilson points out at the end of his editorial, “This premise of democracy is under threat. With newspapers as I’ve known them in eclipse, my remaining talented and dedicated R-G colleagues must find ways to continue providing the oxygen of self-government. They’ll need support, and they’ll always have mine.”
Support the free press. We need it too much to let it slip away, or be eaten away, bit by bit.
Read the entire column below, or via Piercy’s Facebook page.
My name has appeared on the masthead of this newspaper every day since Aug. 5, 1985 — a third of a century, more than half a lifetime. After today it will be there no more. This is my final day as editorial page editor of The Register-Guard.Christian Wihtol, who joined me in the editorial department two months ago, is also departing. Wihtol came to The Register-Guard in 1990 and was the news department’s senior editor for 12 years.
I plan to take a break, and then find some other kind of work to do. Not newspapers. Maybe whale oil.
I came to The Register-Guard because it was known as the Northwest’s best midsized newspaper, published in a city that the late Warren Price of the University of Oregon School of Journalism described as having freedom of thought as a defining characteristic. I stayed because I found both the newspaper’s and the city’s reputations to be deserved.
There have been many high points. Last year’s editorial project on homelessness turned out well, with much credit due to my now-retired colleague, associate editor Ilene Aleshire. The Register-Guard‘s emphatic opposition to the Iraq War has been vindicated. Eugene’s federal courthouse has a wheelchair ramp, an architectural affirmation of equality before the law, because of a campaign I conducted with another former associate editor, Paul Neville.
But few of the 10,000 or more editorials I’ve written for The Register-Guard have been part a big project or crusade. Nearly all relate to the rhythms and routines of civic life — elections, the grindings of local government, environmental problems and abuses of power. Interspersed with these has been the occasional editorial on nutrias, gravity waves, Central Oregon’s red cinder roads and the Eugene firefighter who finished mowing a heart-attack victim’s lawn.
If any of these editorials made government more responsive, preserved or expanded civil rights, corrected an injustice or deepened public understanding, I’ve done my job.
I’ve also shepherded into print close to 100,000 letters to the editor, and maybe about a third that many column-length essays by syndicated bigfoots and local contributors. I’ve encouraged a shift toward local material, because we get so much good copy from people right here in Lane County that my counterparts at other newspapers have always been jealous.
One example: The Register-Guard has been the forum for what I believe to be the world’s longest-running, widest-ranging and most robust debate on forest management. During his mercifully brief tenure, a former publisher stormed into my office one morning, brandishing what could have been the sixth column in as many weeks on old-growth salmon or anadromous logs. “What are we, the enviro-Guard?” he demanded.
Well, yes. If forests and owls and fisheries and wildfire are going to be debated anywhere, it ought to be in a newspaper published in a place that is ground zero for all those issues, and where experts of every stripe are clamoring to have their say. The same goes for continuing discussions of education, public health, child welfare, public finance and more.
I’m grateful to all who contributed. I’m grateful for tolerant publishers — above all, Alton F. “Bunky” Baker Jr. and Tony Baker. Mostly I’m grateful to the newspaper’s readers, who have been at once forgiving and demanding. It is they who set the high standards I’ve struggled to meet, and who let me know when they think I’ve fallen short.
I’ve been guided by a faith that people who are given good information will do the right thing most of the time. This premise of democracy is under threat. With newspapers as I’ve known them in eclipse, my remaining talented and dedicated R-G colleagues must find ways to continue providing the oxygen of self-government. They’ll need support, and they’ll always have mine.
Jackman Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is editorial page editor of The Register-Guard.