Celebrating local journalism with two anniversaries

Thirty-three years ago today, I walked into the newsroom of The Adirondack Daily Enterprise and started my full-time career in journalism.

This year also marks the 125th anniversary of The Enterprise. Here is an essay I wrote for its special edition to toast its success:

In 1986, when I was just out of college and starting my journalism career, I aspired to work for one of the big outlets, The New York Times, The Washington Post or The Los Angeles Times, or even what were then statewide dailies, like The Miami Herald or The Newark Star-Ledger.

Instead, I started at The Enterprise in a part of New York State that, at the time, this Bronx native had never heard of.

As a stepping stone, The Enterprise, a five-day-a-week newspaper, felt like the size of a pebble.

Looking back though, it turned out to be the bedrock upon which my career was built. I’ve never stopped being grateful for and proud of the experiences I had working there from 1986-88.

Today, as the print newspaper industry undergoes paroxysms of change (read: steep decreases in revenues and readership and sharp increases in job losses and other cutbacks, including closures), The Enterprise celebrates 125 years as a pillar of community journalism.

By the time I arrived at The Enterprise newsroom as a fresh-faced 22-year-old, I had spent my entire life in New York City. My sense of scale was always big: skyscrapers, mass transit systems, museums, food, movie theaters, sports teams — you name it.

That sense of big extended to news as well.

I grew up with The Daily News and its delicious tabloid sensibilities of covering the city, its politicians and their foibles, and sensational stories like the Son of Sam serial killer, and disasters like the 1977 blackout.

So, imagine the whipsaw I had coming to Saranac Lake and covering stories like the theft of the “Keep Right” sign that stood where Broadway and Main Street meet or calling Bob Kampf every morning to collect the latest readings from his weather station in Ray Brook.

It was not that I thought those assignments were beneath me. Far from it, in fact.

I was a newbie who was being schooled in daily journalism by the likes of Bill Doolittle and Carol Bruce, then the editor and publisher, and city editor, respectively.

It was exciting and fun and learning experiences abounded.

For instance, I learned what it meant to work and live in a small community.

On one memorable occasion, in a fit of pique, I randomly complained to an Enterprise advertising rep about a village employee, referring to him in a way unsuitable to be retold in a family newspaper.

Without batting an eyelash, she looked at me and said: “Oh him? Yeah, that’s my brother.”

I can’t be sure but I either spit out my coffee or swallowed my tongue. (She agreed with my assessment, by the way.)

What I came to appreciate — and truly embrace — was the vital role a newspaper plays in a community.

With its obituaries, police blotter, coverage of high school sports and annual events like the Winter Carnival, a newspaper like The Enterprise binds a community and promotes a shared experience among its readers.

I learned about the importance of holding those in power to account but doing it in a way that I could look them in the eye on the supermarket line the next day and we would share no ill will. 

I learned about the importance of sources, of ongoing relationships and how newspapers can help a community heal in times of tragedy and loss.

I’ve been in newspapers for 33 years and now I’m at The New York Times as a senior staff editor and weekend editor for its breaking news desk, the Express Team.

But I spent 28 years in community newspapers – The Press-Republican, The Times Herald-Record in Middletown and The Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa.

I wouldn’t give up a second of my time at those community dailies. They enriched my life and taught me valuable lessons, much the way The Enterprise did.

I know the press has its critics and some will derisively refer to some news outlets as “fake news,” but I’m here to tell you The Enterprise is the genuine article (pardon the pun) and has a special place in my heart.

Enterprise, here’s to another 125 years of great community journalism!