Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: TNT editorial page editor retires

Staff Photographer

As a newly minted editor back in 2008, I quickly learned that much of my time was consumed scurrying to meetings, managing staff and addressing reader concerns.

But every Monday afternoon at 2:15, I could depend on a respite from the administrative duties, a chance to sit down with colleagues and discuss in depth the issues facing our community.

Becoming editor meant joining the News Tribune editorial board.

Patrick O’Callahan, at the time, was our new editorial page editor. He had been an editorial writer at the paper since 1987, but was stepping up to lead the board.

For seven years, he has done so with strength and wisdom. He has taken seriously his role as a public servant.

In two weeks, O’Callahan will retire, leaving behind a legacy of openness and fairness, of patience and focus as he wrangled the sometimes divergent opinions of five strong-willed board members. I have learned so much from him.

O’Callahan spent a career working for newspapers in this state after graduating from the University of Washington. In the early 1980s, he was a science writer covering nuclear power and radioactive waste. In 1985, he became editorial page editor of the Tri-City Herald.

He joined the TNT staff as a specialist in education, transportation and health issues.

O’Callahan might be the best-read person I know. He’s a student of world history and politics. He’s demonstrated a Forrest-Gump-like way of knowing something about almost every topic we face. He’s made the TNT conference room a place where South Sound leaders know they can come to talk about issues that matter to them.

I asked him last week what he liked most about being editorial page editor.

“For me, this has been the perfect job,” he wrote. “I get paid for reading, thinking, writing, being in the middle of things and talking to smart people about fascinating subjects. Those happen to be the things I most enjoy doing. Astonishingly, I got paid for it.”

I also asked him what he’s learned about this community he covered for so long.

He responded:

“I love this place, Pierce County in general and Tacoma in particular. I used to live in Seattle, and while Seattle has its big-city attractions, it doesn’t have Tacoma’s earthy charm and intimacy.

“Hang around Tacoma long enough, and sooner or later you meet most everyone. It’s small-townish in that way.

“Tacomans love Tacoma more than Seattleites love Seattle. I know some people up north wouldn’t agree, but Tacoma is like the disadvantaged child who touches his mother’s heart more deeply. The city struggles. Nothing comes easy. So we try harder to make it work, and we care more as a result.

“We’ve had a lot of strikes against us. The timber industry faded, the ship-building industry faded, we’ve had the spike in crime, we wound up with the toxic Superfund sites and a lot of industrial blight.

“But all the time I’ve been here, almost three decades, Tacomans have been racking their brains trying to figure out how to help the city and the region succeed. We’ve done very well, creating the University of Washington Tacoma, for example.

“I say ‘we,’ because The News Tribune has been one of the big drivers of the turnaround. I’ve felt honored to have been one of the city’s advocates.”

The TNT is fortunate to have a well-qualified editor, Matt Misterek, who will take leadership of the editorial board Dec. 26.

Misterek has deep and broad knowledge of South Sound issues. He grew up in Olympia and graduated from Olympia High School and Pacific Lutheran University.

He worked at newspapers in Walla Walla and Bremerton. He was the statehouse and city editor in Salem, Oregon, before coming to the TNT 12 years ago.

Like O’Callahan, he is a good reporter and writer. He is the editor at the news table who reminds us that local coverage is our primary mission.

He has overseen our suburban, education and military beats. He reported from Iraq in 2005 while embedded with a Joint Base Lewis-McChord unit. He has coordinated the TNT All-Star High School Graduate program for five years. He hiked the Wonderland Trail with a TNT team in 2012.

“I’m excited to have a small part in shaping the public discourse around South Sound communities where I’ve lived most of my life,” he told me.

“I hope the op/ed section, under my watch, is a destination for citizen-readers with strong opinions as well as open minds, and good senses of humor.” Misterek likes to think those things aren’t mutually exclusive.

Thank you to O’Callahan for his leadership. Congratulations to Misterek as he takes the reins.

HEADLINE CONFUSION

A teaser on the front of Wednesday’s paper, describing a story inside, said, “The effort to recall Prosecutor Mark Lindquist is in need of funding and backers.”

The headline over that teaser, “Lindquist recall needs support,” accurately reflected the story, but was interpreted by some readers as The News Tribune suggesting readers support the recall.

That was not our intent, but it’s obvious the headline could take a second meaning.

Editors face the challenges of tight deadlines and tiny column space when crafting our headlines, but we should have been more careful with this one.

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