I haven’t had the courage to swing by my great-great-grandfather’s grave on the west side of Port Townsend lately.
I fear I’ll discover him spinning in his grave to learn his once-honorable clan has spawned the latest editor of the Olsons’ hometown paper.
Denouncing the local newspaper is the real national pastime. Even people who don’t go in for sports carp and quibble over journalism, so I don’t expect Olaf to be thrilled.
I have no confidence death puts an end to it. Olaf’s co-tenants in the two-acre Red Men Cemetery are probably still vocal about the sins of Leader editors past. Now they can blame him for me.
An accomplished builder and farmer, Olaf moved his family from Sweden to the prairies of Iowa and then, in March of 1889, to Port Townsend.
The young family was just in time to see W.L. Jones’ Morning Leader join the multi-newspaper war that had been underway here since the 1850s, when there were up to five papers seeking traction.
Competition sometimes brought out the worst in 19th century journalists. So, I worry. Did my long-ago predecessor at The Morning Leader treat the Olson family’s Grandview Hotel fairly?
When typhoid struck a guest there, did the Leader report a “case” or scream “epidemic?”
And when, through mysterious circumstances, the doctor wound up with the lease for the hotel building, how was it reported when he subsequently skipped out on a fat stack of debts?
Reading what Olaf’s daughter, Hilda, wrote in her memoir, it seems some Olsons did not feel their cause had been championed in town. They shook the dust of Port Townsend from their feet and homesteaded the high country above Blyn.
But Olaf and his wife stayed on and it’s hard to imagine the sober old Lutheran loved the nosy nature of news.
I’m guessing he’d wrinkle his nose to hear that I make no apologies for journalism’s tattling. Madison and Jefferson’s antidote to tyranny was a free press, with “some degree of abuse inseparable from (its) proper use.” I aim to properly use Gutenberg’s contraption, but I know the line between abuse and proper use is a matter of opinion. From long experience, I understand that when I commit journalism, my innocent relatives suffer guilt by association.
Stranded in the grocery line with a cartful of necessities, the newsperson’s kin wants to sink through the floor when it starts: “You related to that dingbat at the newspaper? Well, let me tell you something about that rag…”
That means family get-togethers in Blyn now require me to explain The Leader’s decisions when I’d rather be stealing the last chunk of smoked salmon. And when I’m slipping into my grandmother’s kitchen to make a sandwich, I’ll be hearing how family members now have to suffer shame-by-association every time their neighbors scoff at a typo, sniff at a split infinitive or sneer at any failure to uncover “the real story”.
All joking aside, I’m responsible for everything in the paper that’s not an ad, so I can only improve with the benefit of your wisdom.I welcome and value unstinting critiques by readers, several of which have already come my way. My email is email@example.com and the phone on my desk is 360-385-2900 x.109.
Eventually, I’m going to have to go shuffle my feet at Olaf and Lavisa’s graves and learn if the old Swede is going to give me the cold shoulder for riding the newsroom’s uneasy chair.
Dean Miller is Editor of The Leader. Names of his living local relatives have been withheld to protect the innocent. He is bound to observe the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics and will not edit reports about them or their undertakings.