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Sun., March 29, 2009

Departures leave hole in S-R newsroom

Veteran journalists Bill Morlin, Karen Dorn Steele and Dan Webster, whose stories and bylines have informed, revealed and entertained for decades, are leaving the newspaper.

All three of these seasoned writers have elected to accept voluntary severance packages that were available as part of a recent layoff process. As I wrote in a note to the staff last week, these departures represent an incalculable loss to us and our readers.

Morlin’s lifelong love affair with newspapers began in 1960, when he started delivering the Chronicle for the princely sum of $7 a week. He’s a graduate of Lewis and Clark High School and Eastern Washington University. He worked for the Associated Press before joining the Chronicle as the new Spokane Valley reporter in 1972.

Dorn Steele is a native of Portland and a graduate of Stanford. Her father’s well-traveled career with the U.S. Information Agency sparked her lifelong interest in foreign languages and cultures. After working for KSPS as a producer, news director and public affairs director for 10 years, she joined the Chronicle in 1982.

Curt Pierson, now retired and living in Florida, was managing editor of the Chronicle and he lured Dorn Steele to the newspaper. He described her approach to reporting as “very intense. She’s not afraid” to ask the tough questions, Pierson said. Pierson said Dorn Steele had done her research and was well prepared when she was dispatched to the Tri-Cities to begin covering Hanford. “She knew what to do,” he said.

Pierson also recalled Morlin’s talents. “He was what I would call a digger,” Pierson said, which some of us would consider an understatement. “He never approached a story without figuring out all the facets,” Pierson said.

Jess Walter, a former Spokesman-Review reporter and now best-selling author, said, “Clearly, Bill and Karen spent years honing those various skills that make reporters effective: working sources, chasing documents, navigating various bureaucracies and agencies.”

But, Walter said, “the engine doesn’t run without fuel, and what is truly remarkable about both of them is their endless and powerful curiosity, their innate sense of justice, endless enthusiasm, constant belief that newspaper reporters can make a difference by checking power and bringing injustice to light. To watch them on a story is a lesson in doggedness.”

Webster, a native of San Diego, is the son of a U.S. Navy officer and himself a veteran of Vietnam, where he served a 14-month tour. He earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and started his career here as a sports writer. He later migrated to the features department, where he became a stalwart writer and established himself as one of the premier movie critics in the Pacific Northwest.

Morlin and Dorn Steele have produced some of the finest investigative journalism in the history of Spokane’s newspapers. Morlin earned national and regional acclaim for his courageous reporting on extremist groups, especially the Aryan Nations and other white supremacists in North Idaho. Dorn Steele, too, has won national acclaim, but for a far different topic: radioactive exposure to people living near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Webster’s encyclopedic knowledge of the film industry and his smooth writing style created a loyal following both in print and on his blog.

Webster, his wife, Mary Pat Treuthart, and Robert Glatzer co-host a weekly public radio show, “Movies 101.” In a nod to Webster’s incredible memory about films, Glatzer said, “It seems as though every film he’s ever seen – thousands of them – has made a place in his mind, and he can call it up whenever it’s appropriate to whatever film we’re talking about.” Glatzer and Webster often exchanged lively banter on the program. “His opinions are always thoughtful and reasoned, though often wrong, of course,” Glatzer said.

Two other veteran staffers also accepted the voluntary severance package. Copy editor Cathy Reynolds and sports copy editor Kory Boatman aren’t familiar names to many readers because they are among the unsung heroes of any newsroom. Reynolds and Boatman wrote headlines, designed pages and edited stories for grammar, spelling and accuracy. The work of a copy editor is critical to the success of any newspaper, but the individuals involved rarely receive appropriate credit for their work.

In an unrelated move, one of our very capable assistant city editors, Ken Paulman, is leaving to work for Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul. The move satisfies the Paulman family’s desire to return to its Midwestern roots.

All of our departing colleagues have interesting and enviable plans for the next chapters in their lives. Some will be working on books, freelance articles and spending more time on their personal interests or considering other career opportunities. Readers may even see their bylines occasionally in our newspaper or on our Web site.

No matter what their futures hold, we thank our colleagues deeply for bringing important and interesting stories to our readers during their long and distinguished careers, and we look forward to hearing about their new adventures.

Gary Graham is editor of The Spokesman-Review. His e-mail address is

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