It's no secret that newspapers in the United States have been in severe turmoil for much of the past decade in the face of rising costs, falling circulation and declining advertising revenues. The most painful result has been the shrinkage of personnel in every department of just about every paper in the country as the industry thrashes about in search of new ways to remain vital, relevant, meaningful and profitable.
Some of the worst losses have been in the nation's newsrooms, where staffing, in some cases, as been cut as much as 50 percent, throwing some very fine editors and reporters out of work and into a market glutted with newspaper job seekers.
I was very dismayed to learn today that among those leaving the business -- hopefully just temporarily -- is Chuck Raasch, one of the finest, senior national reporters for Gannett's flagship newspaper, USA Today. I don't know Chuck personally, but, the newspaper business being the fraternity that it is, we share some mutual friends including Lee Ann Hamilton, a former USA Today staffer who is now business editor at Gannett's Cincinnati Enquirer and to whom I gave one of her first reporting jobs and her very first editing job when I was city editor at the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Miss., before it was bought by Gannett; and Johanna Neuman, a former USAT White House correspondent, who I sent to the Clarion-Ledger's one-person Washington Bureau.
Although I've never met Chuck, I am very familiar with his work, having followed and admired it in USA Today regularly for many years. I have found that I often favor his coverage of national events over coverage of the same stories in other papers, such the New York Times and the Washington Post, because he has a way of bringing to his work a human touch that I can relate to. It may be a skill he brings to his reporting because he's never forgotten that he grew up as a South Dakota farm boy and understands his task is not really fulfilled unless people like those he grew up with understand the news he is trying to convey.
I learned of his departure from USA Today from a Facebook "share" posted by Lee Ann Hamilton. The share was Chuck's farewell message posted last night (Thursday, May 2, 2013) on his Facebook page.
While many who have had to depart the newspaper business have done so with understandable bitterness, that is nowhere evident in what Chuck has written. Instead, he has provided a farewell message that I find philosophical, moving and inspirational. But, then, considering the body of his work I'm familiar with this is not surprising. Having just retired on Tuesday after a 43 year and four month -- 15,815 day -- career in newspapers, I was considerably moved by Chuck's message and think it is well worth sharing with those who've not seen it, particularly those who have faced or may eventually face his same situation.
So here, in its entirety and with his permission is Chuck Raasch's farewell message:
"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven" - Ecclesiastes 3:1
So, this is that time.
I've decided to join three dozen or so other senior colleagues at USA TODAY who have had a great run and have been given a generous gift: A year to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.
After 45 gut-wrenching days, in which the decision to stay or leave a job that I was born for never got far beyond 50-50, the objective reporter in me won over the journalist's heart.
It's time for a new assignment.
I am not done writing. That I know. And I am not near retiring, not on a day when my 79-year-old dad is planting seed corn in South Dakota soil. Retirement is not possible.
I thank USA TODAY and Gannett. In an age when it's the easiest thing to be cynical about our institutions and corporations, I have been blessed to experience what any South Dakota farm boy could have dreamed. I've been allowed to do something I love while staying true to who I am. Bylines from four continents and 49 states (and I WILL write from Hawaii, bank on it). Great bosses and colleagues, men and women, who believed, like me, that journalism was a calling as strong as the law or the cloth or medicine. The youngest cover story writer on the original USA TODAY. Senior writer at some of the nation's biggest moments, from elections to 9/11 to just now, Boston.
I've interviewed presidential candidates and great Americans who lived in one-room cabins in the Great Smokey Mountains (and generally enjoyed the latter types more).
And here is all I know for sure after all these years:
First , America is so much more than the sum total of its coasts, and the news organizations that remain relevant will be the ones that follow USA TODAY'S original legacy in recognizing that.
Second, as we click away for the latest incremental developments on Justin Bieber's pet monkey, exciting aggregationists and content monetizers everywhere, it is still true and will always be true that journalism is context, substance, meaning, analysis, understanding. And yes, news that the people might not want to hear.
Thanks for the indulgence, and see you down the road.
Hopefully, Chuck will quickly find a new situation at a newspaper that will appreciate him and where he finds the work meaningful and satisfying and from which can eventually retire in his own good time.
The newspaper business can't afford to lose thoughtful, skillful and dedicated people like Chuck and hope to continue being vital, relevant and meaningful.
So, here's to you. Chuck, with all of hope that I can muster that you land on your feet quickly so that I and tens of thousands of other readers can continue to follow your fine work as one of the nation's best reporters.