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Doing right in a tough business

Before he found fame (and considerable fortune) as Mark Twain, a young Samuel Clemens toiled for his brother’s newspaper, the Hannibal Western Union, in Missouri.

The experience of covering the events of that small Mississippi River town is credited with giving Clemens much of the material that shaped the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. It also seemed to sour him on the profession.

“I am not an editor of a newspaper,” he once said, “and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”

As of today I, too, can offer my thanks — though for a different reason.

If you look at the little picture of me in the staff box below, my title is shorter than it was a week ago.

That’s because starting this month, while I remain publisher of the News-Times, I am no longer its editor. That title now belongs to Christian Gaston.

Normally, internal staffing changes don’t warrant announcements in these pages, but this one offers another chance to explain a bit about how the paper works.

On the one hand, the shift in titles is merely a formal acknowledgment of a transition that’s been taking place for a couple years.

To the extent I can take any credit for this newspaper’s success, it’s in that I have a knack for hiring and keeping outstanding employees.

Christian, who started as a part-time temporary reporter in 2006, certainly falls into that category. In addition to being one of the best investigative reporters in the state, he has great organizational skills.

When we changed the way our pages are designed this spring, he played a lead role — not just for the News-Times, but for our entire newspaper group. In the process, he began taking primary responsibility for deciding what stories and photos are assigned and where they appear in the paper.

In short, he began acting very much like the paper’s editor.

So, as of this month, he gets that title, meaning he now has the ultimate say about what goes in the paper each week.

In practice, of course, our workplace requires collaboration, and Christian has a pair of talented colleagues in the newsroom to lean on. Associate Editor Nancy Townsley is an award-winning reporter and eagle-eyed editor who handles deadline duties with dexterity, grace and poise. Photo Editor Chase Allgood (who, like everyone here, wears many hats) has a keen eye for news and is the ultimate problem-solver. And, I’ll still be around on most deadline days to pitch in as

needed.

However, the focus of my efforts will be on the business end of this business.

As I have noted previously, the News-Times is basically a break-even enterprise. The advertisements in our weekly newspaper usually (but not always) cover the cost of putting out that paper. Increasingly, we rely on other ways to bring in income.

We earn money on special sections (such as our upcoming Washington County Fall Arts Guide), which draw in advertisers who don’t feel the need to be in our paper each week.

We also make a little money on contract publishing jobs, such as the insert in today’s paper from the Forest Grove Community Development office.

For that project, the city provided the copy and the maps and hired us to design the publication, coordinate the Spanish language translation and print it. In addition to helping out with the cash flow, the city contract shows another benefit of separating the two components of the job I held until this week.

As the publisher, I’m comfortable talking to public officials about what’s a fair price for a service we can provide. As the editor, however, such business transactions become much more awkward, particularly when a paper, such as ours, takes seriously its role as a watchdog over public agencies.

Allowing Christian, Nancy and Chase to focus on what should be in the paper (and not worry about how to pay for it) ensures that what you’re reading isn’t influenced by who is helping us pay the bills.

And, allowing me to figure out how to pay those bills ensures that you’ll continue to have something to read each week.

Because even Mark Twain, in his later years, saw the value of the profession he once pilloried. During an interview in 1889, two decades after thanking the Almighty for sparing him from a life as an editor (and just three years after the News-Times was founded), Twain softened his stance.

“We are also told that our newspapers are irreverent, coarse, vulgar and ribald,” he said. “I hope that this irreverence will last forever.”

I share that hope, and give thanks that

I have a staff that is more than up to the task.



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