James J. Kilpatrick, the late newspaper editor and columnist, once called editing a newspaper the best job in the world. At the time Kilpatrick was editing the Richmond News Leader 50 years ago, that assessment was almost certainly true. Newspapers were money trees, and publishers tended to identify and hire good, responsible editors and give them free rein to do what is best for the newspaper and the city.
Nearly four years removed from the newspaper business, I find Kilpatrick's assessment still has an allure to it. Being an editor now is harder, given the competition from broadcast and online news sources, the collapse of the newspapers' business model and the decline in print readership. But I do miss the excitement of the newsroom, where there is something new every day and new challenges at ever turn. Best of all, there is always some new knowledge, new facts to learn about.
Two weeks before a primary election, I feel ignorant without the close contact I had for 30-plus years with political candidates and issues. For years, I was accustomed to meeting most statewide candidates, interviewing many of them, and getting to know nearly all of the local candidates. Directing fair and complete news coverage of politics was an enjoyable challenge each year and the most important thing any news editor does because unless the electorate is provided information about candidates, democracy fails.
When the polls open on May 8, I will vote, but I will do so without the confidence and comfort I had as a newspaper editor, when I understood the issues, knew most of the candidates and could talk to many of them at will.