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Loss at The Times: "Say it isn’t so, Dave"

A newspaper columnist turned City Council leader reflects on the departure of Times' Executive Editor David Boardman.
Dave Boardman

Dave Boardman Photo: Seattle Times

News may never be the same in Seattle.

David Boardman, the journalists’ journalist, is leaving The Seattle Times to take a job as dean at the School of Media and Communications at Temple University in Philadelphia. This is news worth celebrating for the journalism profession, but sad tidings for Seattleites who have been the rich beneficiary of his 30-year career.

When I arrived at the Times in 1991, after more than 15 years at the Post-Intelligencer, Boardman, then the paper’s city editor, was my direct line editor. It was he who first read my columns, suggested any changes, checked that I had gotten my facts straight and steered me to report on broader topics.

No one knows you, faults and all, as well as your editor. That I was lucky enough to have the investment of his time is something I’ll never be able to repay.

But I was scarcely the only one. Dave mentored all of us at The Times, eventually rising to become the paper's executive editor and senior vice president. He oversaw four Pulitzer Prizes and numbers of near misses. His effort involved more than “overseeing” in a nominal sense. He was as much a part of the story as any of the reporters whose names appeared in print.

I can still recall vividly, over my dozen years at The Seattle Times, how often I would leave, after a late evening, seeing Dave seated at one of the reporter’s vacant desks, working on a breaking story. He would be furiously rewriting, weaving together disparate elements reported by up to half-a-dozen reporters, creating a single readable story, remarkable for its professional excellence. It was the true meaning of the word “editor,” a calling that, sadly enough, is almost a dying breed.

Today what passes for news in too many mediums is nothing more than a single reporter’s biased blog, not nearly the polished, credible, professional product that Dave and his staff turned out day after day. How lucky we have been to have that source of dependable reporting, something that much of the country never knows.

The Pulitzers that Dave and his staff brought home to Seattle are only part of the story. They were some of his finest moments, but possibly not the finest. That, for me at least, was when he responded in a signed column to his bosses at the paper. After learning that the Seattle Times would be giving free political advertising to a partisan politician and a political initiative he wrote a column headlined: “A vow to continue impartial reporting.” It was some of his finest, bravest writing.

In response to critics, he wrote, “I offer this solemn promise: In these two races as in everything else we do, we will strive to be fair, accurate and thorough. We will continue to ask probing questions of both sides. We will continue to fulfill our mission to serve this community through strong independent journalism that makes a difference… They say that past performance is the best indicator of future performance. As Hemingway advised [when he said the best way to find out if you can trust a man is to trust him], let us show you. On behalf of the people who proudly call themselves Seattle Times journalists, we look forward to reinforcing the thing we hold must precious: our relationship with you.”

It was one of Dave’s finest hours. The surprise for the cynical is that he wasn’t fired for talking back to his publisher, Frank Blethen. And it is to Frank’s credit that he valued an editor who set such high standards. We in Seattle have been most fortunate. I only hope that we will continue to be able to enjoy the quality reporting that Dave and his family of journalists brought us.

Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council and chair of its Libraries, Utilities, and Center Committee. She was a columnist and chronicler of Seattle life for many years at both Seattle daily newspapers. She has endorsed state Sen. Ed Murray for mayor. You can follow her on Twitter: @jean_godden.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jul 12, 9:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Let's nominate David Boardman for sainthood, shall we?

While Ms. Godden's tribute is obviously from her heart and well-meaning, I imagine even David Boardman himself wishes this effusive PR piece had been delivered to him privately.

An objective side to his story might include something like this: the last 18 months or so have not been kind to David Boardman or his reputation among his newsroom staff, his colleagues, and the public who expects The Seattle Times to produce truly "impartial reporting", as promised.

While he was not responsible for the purchase of nearly $80,000 worth of ads for gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna, he had to bear the brunt of their fallout. His editorial explanation noted in the article link, while a noble attempt at damage-control, rang hollow to many of us and made matters worse.

Take responsibility, don't deflect.

Then there was his public tussle with The Washington News Council in June where he allowed himself, an executive editor, to be dragged into the defense of ONE irresponsible reporter by personally lobbing more accusations and rationalizations when taking responsibility for her weak journalism would have been the high and easiest road to take. One journalist, only one, among the hundreds of many fine ones he has worked with over the years.

Take responsibility, David. Don't deflect.

David Boardman used to know what open, accountable, and transparent journalism is, but he lost his way, maybe only briefly, at the end of his Seattle Times career. It is not fatal and he will move on and be remembered most for the good that he accomplished because we all know what it is like to be human. All of our careers are a story of highs and lows.

I do wish him well at Temple. It will not be a cakewalk for him, though. Academics are often resistant and suspicious of leaders who have not published academic research themselves. His hands-on experience and warm personality will serve him well, however, and he will win the skeptics over soon.

Best of luck to you, David.

And that wish, like Ms. Godden's tribute above, is from my heart.

gaia

Posted Fri, Jul 12, 10:32 a.m. Inappropriate

"No one knows you, faults and all, as well as your editor."

Absolutely. A good editor makes us sound like the best version of ourselves.

sandik

Posted Fri, Jul 12, 10:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Boardman wasn't -- and isn't -- perfect. But stack him up next to Fancher and MacLeod, and he looks pretty damn good. Those who follow him won't.

ivan

Posted Sun, Jul 14, 6:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Bless his heart, Dave just never “got” how people obtain information from the internet, as well as from the Times. That’s why his editing comes off as the output of a didactic twit.

crossrip

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