Karen Peterson, who has led our newsrooms to singular success through some tough years, is leaving The News Tribune and her leadership of the news staffs in Tacoma and Olympia.
She told me last week she’s given all she has to the job and loved every minute of it, but that it’s time to find a new challenge. She plans to stay in this community and contribute in other ways to the South Sound, so she’ll take some time to reflect and then seek that next opportunity.
Personally, I’m sad about this. Karen and I have been business partners and close professional friends for 17 years.
But this is also an occasion to celebrate the gift she has been to this place. She’s a loyal and candid friend, a kind and compassionate human being, a determined and strategic leader, and a fine journalist.
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As an editor Karen has been a resolute advocate for government accountability journalism and a formidable opponent of public officials who obfuscate, dissemble or cover up.
Among the victories during her tenure was holding the city and Police Department accountable for leadership lapses and reforms promised after Tacoma Police Chief David Brame shot his wife and killed himself. She also championed — through her column and our coverage — our tough reporting on County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist and his excesses.
Under Karen’s leadership, The News Tribune won the Washington Coalition for Open Government’s top honor, the James Madison Award, for “exceptional dedication to the First Amendment and the cause of open government” through dogged reporting, columns and editorials, and a willingness to take governments to court to enforce the law.
She also preserved our commitment to top-notch sports coverage and an intense focus on our local-news franchise that gives readers news about their communities they can’t get anywhere else.
In Olympia, she led deeper coverage of the growing homeless population downtown and helped local staff complete a revealing and intimate yearlong project on the monks of St. Martin’s University.
Karen has been an innovator, as well. She was among the first editors in the nation to bring an experimental program of the American Press Institute into our communities to help determine the topics that most engage readers in Tacoma and Olympia. Through research and working with the news staffs, we committed special effort to covering things we think define this very special place — from the military to the arts, from commuting to the dining scene, from the outdoors to local business, state government and the environment.
More recently, she led efforts to recommit our staffs to heightened coverage of breaking news online and to meeting readers where they are on digital and social media. As a result, our readership is greater than ever. She’s done that while respecting readers who still prefer to begin their day with a print paper and a cup of coffee each morning.
In addition to her leadership in our newsrooms, Karen served the cause in other ways. She was a board member of the Associated Press Managing Editors, and currently serves on the boards of the American Society of News Editors and Washington Coalition for Open Government. She also served twice as a Pulitzer Prize juror.
Her proudest legacy may be this: “We’ve built a selfless staff of journalists who care deeply about this community and who take seriously their responsibilities to tell it like it is and to keep people informed.”
The immediate task for managing editor Dale Phelps, and for the staff, is to nurture and preserve that legacy as we move into an increasingly digital future.