It was raining when I drove over the Columbia River bridge into Washington in late November 1978. But my spirits weren’t dampened, and I gleefully honked my horn upon spotting the “Welcome to Washington” sign.
I was leaving the East Coast behind and starting a new life in the Pacific Northwest. I had accepted a six-month job filling in for a Tacoma News Tribune reporter who was taking a leave of absence. With the bravado and sometimes misplaced confidence of a 26-year-old, I figured I’d have no trouble persuading the powers-that-be at the TNT that they should keep me on after those six months were up.
So I quit my job on the small Virginia paper where I’d worked for four years after college, buckled my parakeet’s cage into the front seat of my little yellow Toyota and started driving west.
Flash forward to 2016, and I’m writing the final chapter on a journalism career that is unusual for two reasons: I’ve worked at only two papers, and I’ve managed to retire under my own power in an industry that has undergone paroxysms of turmoil in the last decade.
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Many journalists much more talented than I have seen their careers ended too early because of the economic forces that have made daily newspapers less profitable. I feel very fortunate to have worked here in Tacoma and to have made a life in a part of the world I hope will be my home forever.
Growing up as an Air Force “brat” and moving around every few years, mostly in the South, I never expected that I would ever spend so long in one place.
It wasn’t easy at first. I have to admit to a little culture shock upon arriving in Tacoma.
In 1978, this was a pretty dismal place. Plus it smelled bad most of the time – something I’m glad to say has changed quite a bit.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, was happening downtown, if you don’t count the two X-rated theaters. Sixth Avenue was a boarded-up, lifeless street. You could count the halfway decent restaurants in the area on one hand. I remember writing a friend back in Virginia and describing the area as depressing.
The TNT was also a disappointment back then, a boy’s club with not a single woman in management. There were a few women reporters, but I think I was expecting more in this progressive corner of the country. The paper I had worked at in Virginia had a woman city editor and I was the features editor. At the TNT, even the editor of the very traditional “women’s section” was a man.
It took a few years, but things did start changing at the TNT as well as in Tacoma. In the ’80s, women started moving into positions of responsibility in the newsroom. The paper now has had two women publishers and three women running the newsroom.
In 1988, I became the first woman editorial writer and member of the editorial board – a glass ceiling that took far too long to break. I have the late publisher, Bill Honeysett, to thank for that opportunity.
I’ve had the privilege of working with many impressive journalists over the years, including the late managing editor Rod Cardwell. When I went to him one day in 1982 with an idea for creating a features department to handle all the “soft” news and the four magazines we published at the time, he was all in.
During my 28 years in the “opinionator” office, my colleagues included two of the smartest people I’ve ever known, Dave Seago and Patrick O’Callahan, both now retired. The new editorial page editor, Matt Misterek, only came on board from the newsroom at the beginning of January, but he’s already on track. I have every confidence that he’ll be a great editor and look out for the community’s interest – which has been the prime directive of the newspaper’s opinion writers for many years.
I’ve very much enjoyed working with the other members of the editorial board: publisher Dave Zeeck, executive editor Karen Peterson and managing editor Dale Phelps – fine journalists all.
I was asked recently what “causes” I was proudest to have written about during my time in editorials. I’d point to arguing for marriage equality, aid in dying and expanded background checks for gun purchases.
Early on I refused to write any editorial that seemed to support the death penalty, and in meetings I always argued against it. Today this newspaper is on record as opposing capital punishment, and the editorial board has taken other progressive stands that make me proud to have worked here.
In retirement I will continue to be a daily print subscriber, my modest way of supporting my fellow journalists and the principle that their work is worth paying for. I hope you will, too.
Cheryl Tucker, a University of Florida graduate, retired Friday after a 42-year career in daily newspapers. She lives in Lakewood. Contact her at email@example.com.