Some mirrors don’t lie

by Erik Dolson
Posted 1/31/24


After three months as managing editor of a newspaper in one of my favorite communities, I’m confronted with an uncomfortable realization: I did the best I could, but could have done …

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Some mirrors don’t lie



After three months as managing editor of a newspaper in one of my favorite communities, I’m confronted with an uncomfortable realization: I did the best I could, but could have done better.

Getting old offers many chances for denial, embarrassments when denial is not sufficient, frustrations when opportunities are left until too late. Disappointment lurks at every staircase, doctor’s visit, desired encounter, and fresh challenge.

Yet, there are advantages to experience. Continuity is underrated in a world that seems to tack without thought to the new direction.

We changed the “look and feel” of the newspaper to a more traditional format. We increased type size and spacing to make the newspaper easier to read for those who, like me, found small type a challenge. We added stories and photos to the front page to give readers additional reasons to look inside. We brought consistency to pages 2 and 3 so readers would find them more intentional. The community approved. That felt good.

To efforts of an exceptional and professional staff writer who could pump out thousands of words on any topic at the last minute, we added five or so freelancers with a variety of voices, including an experienced journalist who returned to the fold and a couple of new reporters with fresh points of view.

I wrote as little as I could, not wanting the paper to depend on the editor where I hoped to develop a team that would easily continue after I was gone. It could be argued I should have written more, and put more effort into actual design. There could have been a story assignment board for better organization, and more focus on local government.

And in what I thought was the result of age, my left eye stopped focusing with my right eye at any distance. This was a sudden degradation after a recent eye appointment that made reading difficult and proofreading almost impossible. This was frustrating and embarrassing. Words still play a game of hide and seek. Another eye appointment is set for next week.

A day’s energy was often used up by 3 p.m. A fog of dullness suffused far too many days. At first I worried about a failure of ability. Nothing worked to sharpen my edge, from gallons of caffeine to 5K or 10K walks, or time in the gym. I felt I was always behind, not caught up and not catching up, unable to see either forest or the trees. I was slow and often overwhelmed by the amount of work. Far too many inaccurate details and outright errors slopped through on my watch.

A younger friend who holds the same job at a different paper suggested my fatigue was due to stress, but even he notices it’s getting harder to do that which somewhat defines who he is.

In late November 2023, I notified the owners that I would have to depart by February. They found an extremely capable replacement while I was in Denmark over Christmas. The new managing editor took over in the middle of January. She brings experience, energy, intelligence, and she will excel.

That’s how evolution works. New blood solves challenges that were daunting for the old, even while the old can still make a contribution. While much was left undone during my stint at The Leader, work that was done still had value.

A week after I left Port Townsend, I planned to return to look at a piece of real estate that caught my interest. While shaving on the morning I planned to travel, I grew dizzy and went to the floor. Long story short, I was provided an ambulance ride to the emergency room, treated for atrial fibrillation, then released on my own recognizance with a couple of new medications.

In answering doctor’s questions about my symptoms, I realized there was an overlap with my job. At first I was relieved: What I regarded as shortcomings could be blamed not on advancing age or lack of talent, but on A-Fib! Then I realized that A-Fib was probably as clear a demonstration of advancing age as any other new infirmity. Even if it had a role in what I viewed as work unfinished, A-Fib couldn’t shield me from knowing that at one time, I was better at getting that work done.

My friend Oscar shares that “life offers more to those who say ‘yes.’ ” I’ve taken his advice on a couple of important occasions, including saying “yes” to helping out at The Leader.

Though not the capstone I wanted it  be, I’m profoundly grateful for the opportunity to contribute, even as I realize that as time marches on, it changes soldiers in the ranks.


For more from Erik Dolson, former managing editor of The Leader, visit