Over the years, I’ve read many farewell columns by retiring or transitioning journalists.
Even before the profession hit this sustained downturn, I mostly thought these columns were self-serving, focusing on the glory days of news reporting, and self-aggrandizing about news stories uncovered.
With so many departing journalists, the farewell column has become cliché, and editors are surely loathed to provide the opportunity to all those leaving. And readers, remember them, aren’t interested.
This week, however, I came across a particularly poignant goodbye column by a reporter retiring from The Seattle Times after nearly 40 years.
Jack Broom was a general assignment reporter, which means he usually covered the big stories of the day, and when there wasn’t breaking news, he would work on occasional feature stories. General assignment reporters are a special breed; they can cover a legislative hearing one day and a volcanic eruption the next with the same grace and poise.
Broom started reporting when newsrooms were filled with typewriters, and over the years had the dubious honor of writing obituaries for his colleagues. There are few journalists left like him.
Broom saw his role as a journalist quite simply. “My goals have been straightforward: To tell readers something about the community and world they live in, and — if possible — help them enjoy the time they spent with the newspaper.”
And for his approach to covering tragedies, it was equally simple. “I have tried to be respectful and genuine — sensitive without a faux tearfulness …I’ve tried to focus on what readers might learn from the tragedy.”
I could go on and on about how those qualities are harder to find in today’s journalists, and how breaking a story, regardless of the facts and getting clicks and Facebook comments, are the real priority. But today, I would rather focus on Broom and how over the past four decades he made a small difference, one story at a time.
I can’t put it any better than Broom. “The common ground in all these stories: happy, sad or strange, is that they tell us something about being human, and about those with whom we share this place on the planet.”