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Gary Graham: End of 44-year ride in journalism is bittersweet

A newspaper career that began with a reporting job at my hometown newspaper in Indiana is winding down after 44 years. I’m both glad and sad.

The gladness comes because, as I near my 67th birthday next month, I’m excited about my future as a traveler, occasional writer and loyal newspaper subscriber.

The sadness has it roots in my affection for our craft and the front-row seats I had for so many dramatic and historic events. I’m already missing the daily thrum of the newsroom and the exclusive access to the news as it unfolds.

This is my 11th presidential election as a journalist. Election night in a newsroom is often a fascinating, exhilarating challenge. The night of Nov. 8 in the newsroom promises to be like none other. New editor Rob Curley has kindly agreed to let me hang out in The Spokesman-Review newsroom on election night, a privilege that will be a fitting end to my career.

I never wanted to be anything but a newspaperman. I will not claim that I loved every day of my career. Some days were extremely difficult. I wasn’t always as successful or as talented as I needed or wanted to be, and I made more mistakes than I care to remember. But I will be forever grateful for being allowed to work with scores of talented journalists at four newspapers and a small news service.

My high school journalism teacher, Donald Lemish, was not my only mentor, but he certainly was the most important. He inspired, pushed and gave me confidence. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Ernest E. Williams, the executive editor who gave me my first reporting job at the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel in 1972. Ernie wore a coat, bow tie and red socks to work every day. Ernie died decades ago, but I began wearing red socks each day to work in his honor when I was promoted to editor of The Spokesman-Review in 2008.

I’ve given much thought to the purpose and value of newspapers in recent years while the industry I love has been buffeted by cataclysmic economic and technological changes. While much has changed in the newspaper world, some building blocks remain rock solid. Newspapers need a democracy that thrives. Democracy needs a strong, independent and vibrant press that speaks truth to power and tells the stories of a community, both large and small.

Decades ago, the Detroit Free Press created a signature motto, labeling itself “the morning friendly.” I’ve always considered that such an important and symbolic phrase, because it denotes a newspaper’s role of being a friend who shares good news with you and is not afraid to tell you the difficult, bad news when you need to hear it.

Families who have a journalist among them make considerable sacrifices in the course of one’s career and mine was no different. My former spouse, Jane, and my son, Chris, put up with countless late dinners, missed school events and family time as I met the demands that come with working on a morning newspaper. My daughter, Kelly, died of muscular dystrophy when she was only 5 months old, but often when I faced a difficult decision, I quietly asked myself if she would think I had acted fairly or honorably. I tried.

Jim Camden, our veteran politics and government reporter in Olympia and resident historian, recently sent me a story about how in the time before computers, newspaper journalists ended their typed copy of a story with dashes and two specific numerals. Seems fitting today.

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