In just over a week as editor at the Union Missourian, several people have asked where I came from. After replying that I was most recently in Oregon, some have responded with some form of “Why would you leave there?”
It’s not an easy question to answer.
The short answer is to be closer to my aging parents in North Texas. I’m now either a quick flight or a day’s drive away, whereas it previously took most of the day to fly there or several days to drive.
But the longer answer is a bit more complex. While many think of the stunning coastline or incredible waterfalls of the Columbia River Gorge when they think of Oregon, it was a bit different in Central Oregon, where I lived and worked.
The area was defined by amazing volcanic Cascade Mountains, but those same mountains cut us off from the rest of the Northwest in the winter, when we got up to 30 inches of snow in a week, making travel to the coast and other areas difficult.
But, really, I’ve always been someone who is willing to take risks, dating back to the early days of my career, when I wrote part time for a group of weekly community papers in the Fort Worth, Texas, area.
Most of my colleagues had no desire to ever leave the Dallas-Fort Worth area, a part of the country where I lived for 15 years. But I’ve always been up for a new challenge.
When I had a chance to take my first full-time newspaper job in 2006 in Stephenville, Texas, even though it paid less than my combined part-time newspaper and flood-control jobs, I took it and moved about 60 miles southwest.
After getting some good experience in Stephenville, I took another chance by leaving after only four months for my first job at a seven-day-a-week paper in Odessa, Texas, a few hundred miles west (on my way out, the editor in Stephenville told me how I needed to stay longer at my next job, only to leave himself a few months later).
Odessa is not most people’s idea of a desirable place to live — it’s surrounded by flat fields full of sagebrush and oil rigs, with the smell of methane being burned off hard to escape.
Turnover was high at the newspaper (I was our longest-serving reporter within two years), but I loved the job. It was interesting covering the oil business as prices topped $150 a barrel, only to crash in 2008, and quickly recover.
The price of oil impacted everything from apartment availability to layoffs in the school district.
I made some great friends in Odessa, but after sticking it out for more than five years there, even I’d had enough.
In 2011, I took a position at a paper in the Atlanta suburbs. I loved the area (this is where I tell you I am a Braves fan. Sorry folks!), but the job was kind of a dud.
I worked with some great people, but within a couple years, I made perhaps my biggest change — heading for the Tri-City Herald in Eastern Washington state, an area I’d barely been to more than 2,400 miles away.
The move paid off both personally and professionally. I met my wife there, and, as a senior reporter, wrote on some exciting topics, including a massive congressional race and some divisive annexation battles.
After a few years, our corporate-owned paper was seeing major effects of the downsizing that has hit our industry.
So I took another chance and became senior reporter at the weekly paper in Redmond, Oregon, a couple hundred miles away. I think some of my Tri-Cities editors thought I was nuts to go from a daily paper covering an area of nearly 300,000 people to a weekly paper in a town of 30,000 (this was before a couple of them took jobs editing smaller papers themselves).
We had a great first few years in Redmond, redesigning the paper, building a website and creating some excitement about the Redmond Spokesman again. But then things started to change.
Problems with our company led to our publisher and two advertising salespeople leaving, making me the paper’s only full-time employee. Then, flooding in the office, this was the desert, so it didn’t take a lot of rain to make the roof fall in, led to us moving into the offices of our daily sister paper, 15 miles away, taking the Spokesman out of the community we’d been in for more than 100 years.
Our company went through a bankruptcy and was eventually sold to a company that appears to be in much better shape financially. But the new people didn’t seem to have much interest in bringing the Spokesman back to Redmond or adding staff, so I decided it was time for another new challenge.
Which brings me here to Union. I came here for the chance to officially be an editor (something I basically was but never got the title for in Oregon). So far, I am really enjoying the area and have gotten a lot of help from I work with, especially Susan Miller and, our previous Union editor, Joe Barker.
I am also enjoying getting out into the community and meeting as many of you as possible, whether that’s at the park, local groups or various meetings.
I really look forward to hearing from you. One thing that has always helped has been getting ideas and feedback from the community.
If you have an event you’d like to see in the paper, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636-583-7701. Right now, I’m at that awkward stage where my emails are coming in at a trickle. That usually changes, and I end up getting more emails than I know what to do with, but I always love hearing from anyone local with something they’d like to see covered.
Well, this is the first column I’ve written since I was allowed to do one for my final high school paper, and like I did then, I am going on and on.
I will try to tighten things up a little bit in future columns, but, until then, have a great week.