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June 26, 2022

Commentary: Some parting words

During my 48 years of working at newspapers I have had a long list of jobs including sports photographer, daily news reporter, small town sports editor, news editor, general manager, publisher and owner. Now, effective at the end of last month, I am an ex-publisher and former owner. I am retired.
My contribution of written words and thoughts for this space will now become more occasional and by invitation only. I have always placed writing and the printed word ahead of breathing air as an essential part of living, so I’m sure my computer’s keyboard will continue to be rapped upon most days. I have devoted my journalism career to the belief that the printed word is the world’s greatest weapon in defense of truth, justice and freedom. I may be retired from daily deadlines but my weapons stand ready.
No career can last this long without a long list of people to be acknowledged, thanked, wheedled or rebuked. (My high school English teacher said I would never make it as a writer. Take that, Mrs. Ashbury.) From that long list, I would like to save my thanks for just one person here, my wife and partner Sarah Bradbury. As a co-owner of our newspapers and as co-publisher of our great Discoveries magazine, she always has been a vital part of our community journalism efforts — and so much more.
There are decades of newsroom comrades to thank, especially editors such as Barry Dugan, John H.K. Riley, Gabe Fraire, Frank Robertson, Patty Roth, Matthew Hall, Kerry (Russell) Lindecker, Ray Holley and the current managing editor, Zoë Strickland.
The future of the local news organization where I toiled for 40 years is now under the guidance of the SoCoNews (Sonoma County Local News Initiative) board of directors and their advisors. Please continue to give your support to these dedicated individuals that includes Nancy Dobbs, Richard Bugarske, Mary Fricker, Ricardo Ibarra, Susanne Esquivel, Greg Jacobs and Nancy Dougherty. Also, Teresa Elward Mangiapani is the general manager for SoCoNews and is handling most of my former publisher duties. Please don’t hesitate to ask her how you can help.

My highest tribute must go to my readers, the faithful and the other kind. There can be no news without an audience. There is no such thing as a free press unless enough people are willing to pay for it. You, my readers, must be as tired of reading the next sentence as I am weary of writing it: “Only a community can save its own newspaper.”
I have been told by many readers through the years how much fun it must be to be a newspaperman. I have always corrected these readers, as I do now. Journalism is not fun. It is edgy and demanding work with very high standards of ethics and social awareness. It is not fun, but it is very rewarding when you do it right. If I lost sleep about this job (and I did) it wasn’t about my ethics or reputation; it was the worry about how to make payroll or upgrade our computers. My single biggest regret is we were never able to pay our reporters and editors the living wage they deserve. Sadly, that indignity continues to be shared with our child care providers, farm laborers and so many other essential workers.
My favorite newspaper job was being sports editor. I got to see our local communities at their best with parents cheering their children, coaches teaching teamwork and the sight of bleachers filled to capacity with hometown pride. Later, when I started covering the news down at city hall, the cheering, pride and teamwork were often too hard to find.
My second favorite newspaper job was being a young owner of my first newspaper, Sonoma West Times & News in 1995. After 20 years of working for others, it was time to employ all my contrariness, underdog tendencies, championing of children and the earliest life lessons taught to me by my mother.
It so happens we bought our first newspaper on my wife Sarah’s birthday. While we were celebrating at a local restaurant that evening, a friend at the next table asked what birthday present I had given to Sarah. When I answered, “a newspaper,” she answered, “why you cheap son of a b—-.”
Rollie Atkinson is the former publisher and CEO of SoCoNews and The Healdsburg Tribune. He co-owned The Healdsburg Tribune, The Windsor Times, Sonoma West Times & News and Cloverdale Reveille until September 2021.