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.