Clark might be gone, but his vision will stay behind


I wouldn't ordinarily think that things going on behind the scenes here at the newspaper are of much interest to the average readers (or even non-readers) out there. But something pretty significant occurred last week when our boss gathered up his stuff and left for a job at Oregon State University.

We had a going-away wingding for him late last week with wine and speeches and songs and quite a bit of laughing. But a lot of us are very sad to see him go, so I thought I'd try to explain what some of us still here might be going through.

His name is Steve Clark. He used to be president of Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune. Now he is vice president for university relations and marketing at Oregon State University, the institution from which he received his higher education.

When I first met Steve, in the summer of '74, I was a reporter at the Tigard Times, based in the office next door to the Jade Terrace restaurant on Main Street. Also working there then was the woman who would eventually become his wife, Randy Nickelsen. But at the time, he was still a student at OSU. When my wife first met him - at a party - she said on the way home that he spoke so softly, 'I couldn't understand a word that kid said.'

I have worked with Steve several different times now, beginning in the 1970s, when I was hired as editor of the Woodburn Independent. In fact, it was Steve who helped me get that job; he was already a hot young go-getter with Eagle Newspapers putting out an agriculture section that wrapped around the classified section of the Canby, Woodburn and Molalla papers.

Later it was Steve who lured me away from Woodburn to be his second in command at the Lake Oswego Review. Soon after we'd settled in there, we started the West Linn Tidings and the Tualatin Valley Observer, which covered Tualatin and Sherwood.

Then, three short years later, he was off to Gresham, where he lasted a few years before getting fired by a notoriously profit-minded company. It's worth pointing out that, in those days, pretty much everybody got fired from the top job in Gresham.

Next thing you know, he was at the Times Newspapers - the little company that once consisted of Beaverton, Tigard and Forest Grove but then became Community Newspapers and included Lake Oswego and West Linn. Not long after, he bought the company. And, a few short years later, he sold it to Robert Pamplin Jr. of Lake Oswego.

Whoever, we've worked for - whether it was Eagle Newspapers, a combination of Eagle and the Register Guard in Eugene, Steve himself or (now) the Pamplin Media Group - the job has always been the same, and that has a lot to do with Steve's vision of what community journalism is supposed to be all about.

Quite a few of us still here drank the Steve Clark Kool-Aid.

Newer people to our company may not appreciate this, but most of what Steve did in his capacity as a leader was to do the right thing, just because it was the right thing. Many of his decisions weren't based on what would make us money or please an advertiser. First and foremost, it had to be the right thing - and we usually know in our heart what that is, don't we?

With that in mind, then, let me review a few of the lessons I've learned after several years of working alongside Steve.

* You're never really too busy to take a phone call. This includes when you're on deadline and running out of time to get the paper done. And if you believe you are too busy to talk to ordinary people, you're probably wrong.

* You have to be nice to everybody and listen to what they say, whether on the phone or in person - even if they're complete idiots and you disagree vehemently with them. We need them more than they need us.

* Nobody cares what our personal problems are. Even if a mistake appeared in the paper because somebody sent us bad information, we don't need to whine about it. Just correct it and move on.

* Everybody deserves a chance to state his or her opinion, whether in a letter to the editor, a guest column or an online comment. Ironically, it's the sensible, thoughtful people who need to be reminded of this; the nut cases already feel entitled to this privilege.

* We probably should not brag too much about the fact that our obituaries, weddings, engagements and anniversaries are free because we consider them community news - even if other, bigger, fatter newspapers charge a fortune for the same service. But it is a source of pride.

* These humble little items we strain to get into our papers often end up on in people's homes in prominent places, which is why we sometimes refer to it as refrigerator news.

* You need to do what's right just because it's right, and not because it's going to earn you points or money or something.

I suspect that Steve will attempt to spread his philosophy around when he gets to his new job in Corvallis. I just hope they have sense enough to accept it.

Former editor of the Lake Oswego Review and former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections for Community Newspapers and contributes a regular column.