Opinion: Keep the community conversation going

When my ninth-grade civics class was assigned to write term papers about careers that interested them, I wrote about journalism.

I worked on my high school paper and on the University Daily Kansan while earning my journalism degree. I worked at the Parsons Sun for a year and a half before Managing Editor Ralph Gage called to ask if I’d be interested in applying for a job at the Journal-World. I was hired as the area reporter, covering all the small towns around Lawrence, and worked as a features editor and Sunday editor before replacing Bill Mayer as editorial page editor in 1987. All told, I’ve had the good fortune to work for more than 41 years at the only job I ever really wanted.

There are some things about this job that I won’t miss, but not many. Being the editorial page editor at the Journal-World is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with and appreciate this community and the people in it. I’ve been fully exposed to the diversity of interests and opinions that Lawrence has to offer and certainly am the better for it.

I grew up with newspapers. I love the way they are organized and the way you can carry them around, show a story to someone else or clip something out and save it. I have a coffee mug on my desk that says “I love the smell of newsprint in the morning.” I love newspapers, but, these days, I’m less concerned with how news is delivered than with preserving the profession of journalism. Social media is an interesting delivery tool, but without the reporting of professional journalists, there would be little content to share or comment on. Professional journalists who have to go back to the same sources and the same readers day after day know the importance of accuracy, fairness and integrity. They keep an eye on all levels of government in a way that average citizens cannot. The watchdog role they play is essential to open government and a healthy democracy.

At their best, editorials should give readers something to think about, a position to consider even if they don’t agree with it. Journal-World editorials aren’t signed because they represent the opinion of the newspaper and not the individual writer. They truly are a collaborative effort. I am grateful to both Dolph Simons Jr. and his father, Dolph Sr., for giving me a chance 29 years ago to help shape that editorial voice. Dolph Jr. and I freely admit that we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, but working through those differences almost certainly has resulted in editorials that are more thoughtful and more respectful of varying viewpoints.

Over the last 40 years, I’ve worked with many outstanding editors and reporters, including some who will remain on the J-W staff after the ownership change. They are dedicated to their work and fully aware of the important role the Journal-World plays in our community. I’ve also worked with many, many contributors of letters and guest columns to the Journal-World. Thank you for caring enough to express your opinions.

People I’ve met over the years often are interested in the Journal-World and my job. At some point, I came up with what I thought was the perfect answer to the frequent question, “So, do you write editorials?” I always responded, “Well, yes I do, but only the ones you agree with.”

I knew that wasn’t always true, but it usually kept the conversation going in a friendly direction.

It’s been my honor to be part of our community conversation. Lawrence is full of opinions and people who care deeply about many issues. I urge you all to keep the conversation going. Keep it as friendly as you can, and don’t forget to listen. You never know what you might learn.