A lot has changed since 1964.
Lyndon Johnson was president. The Ford Mustang was in its first year of production. The Sonics, Tacoma’s soon-to-be-famous rock band, released their first single.
That’s also the year Jonathan Nesvig started working in The News Tribune’s newsroom.
He’d already been a TNT carrier for several years when, at the age of 18, he landed a job on the night sports desk. The newspaper plant was downtown on St. Helens Avenue. Nesvig’s job was to answer phone calls and mark up box scores that came across the wire. He’d send the sheets through a pneumatic tube to the composing room, where they were set in hot type.
He had no designs on being a journalist. He’d studied biology at Pacific Lutheran University.
But when it came time to choose a career, Nesvig already had ink in his veins. He couldn’t think of a better job than journalism for a nosy kid who so enjoyed talking to people.
Nesvig retired Friday after more than 50 years with the paper. News staffers, old-timers and family members gathered reunion-style to tell stories and send him off. In true Nesvig fashion, he served as his own master of ceremonies.
His career has been an interesting one.
His first TNT byline appeared in 1965 on a story about a summer festival in Lakewood. He’d go on to cover crime and courts, school boards and city councils, higher education and high school sports.
“I liked covering a wide range of subjects,” he wrote to me, “including kings and queens, gubernatorial debates, presidential candidates, and the occasional celebrity, including Aretha Franklin, Jane Fonda and Jerry Lewis.”
He wrote about union organizer Cesar Chavez urging inmates on McNeil Island to form a union. He covered the aftermath of the landmark Boldt decision that settled tribal fishing rights. He was among the first to climb Mount St. Helens after its eruption and tell readers what it looked like from the top. He traveled to Russia to write about athletes participating in the Goodwill Games.
Nesvig would go on to be assistant city editor, wire editor and copy editor. He was wire editor on Sept. 11, 2001, our point man for choosing from a flurry of stories coming through the wires about the terrorist attacks and helping assemble the TNT’s most recent midday Extra.
What an important role he played that day: Give readers as much information as possible about the news rapidly breaking out of New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Deliver it in a way that conveys its gravity without inciting panic. Look for ways to incorporate reactions in Tacoma with those of Americans across the country.
The situation played to Nesvig’s strengths.
It was but one edition of The News Tribune out of more than 18,000 published during his tenure.
A lot changed at the paper in that time. We moved the plant up the hill and installed an offset press. We gave up typewriters for computers. We banned smoking, which Nesvig says made for better-smelling clothes when he got home from work. We learned to publish on a website and deliver the news to readers’ phones.
But at heart, we’re still doing the same thing the TNT has done for more than 130 years — telling stories about local people, keeping an eye on people in power and dropping a newspaper at your doorstep every morning.
Likewise, a lot changed for Nesvig over the years. He married and helped raise two fine children. He saw colleagues come and go. He learned and relearned the tools of his trade as technology advanced.
But more important than his adaptability were the qualities about Nesvig that never changed, at least not in the 15 years I worked alongside him.
He walked through the door every day with a smile on his face and a spring in his step, like a kid who couldn’t believe we let him work at the TNT.
He remained a reporter at heart, quick with a news tip or story idea. He pushed deadline — sometimes too far — to get readers the latest national wire story. He was a perfectionist editor still marking up copy on his last day as he had on his first.
As Nesvig said Friday, he leaves a newsroom full of young journalists who care as deeply as he does about what we do. He also leaves a wonderful example of how to make this a life’s work to be proud of.