After more than 36 years at The Times, Jerry Large reflects on his time here and thanks readers before he heads off to retirement.
Thank you for reading my columns. Readers are the essential element in column writing, because there would be little point to the exercise without you.
The other vital ingredient is having something or someone to write about. I want to thank the many people who have shared what they know with me so that I could share it with readers.
And I want to thank all of you for the generous and kind notes you’ve sent since The Seattle Times announced my retirement. Sometimes I’ve been blasted by people whose emails or phone calls are too nasty to share publicly, but there have always been more good than bad ones, or I wouldn’t have lasted so long. You kept me going.
I’ve appreciated hearing from people who agree with my positions and energized by people who say they’ve learned some things, even if they don’t agree with everything I say. Keeping the conversation going is what column writing is about.
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An early mentor, the late Nancy Hicks Maynard, told me you can’t tell people what to think, but you can give them something to think about. I hope I’ve done that.
I came to The Times in 1981, and I did a number of editing jobs in the first decade before switching to writing columns. I was scared at first because I thought if I was going to be offering people my opinions about the problems we face, I should have the solution — not a solution but the solution.
I shook off that idea pretty quickly, or I would never have been able to write a word.
Sometimes I do offer a solution, but it’s one that usually comes from talking with lots of people who know more than I do, or from reading books and reports. Even opinion writing has to be grounded in facts. You remember facts. They really do exist.
I’ve always liked to sit and think. I did a lot of that as a kid on the front porch with my dog Spot (the name’s not original, but aspirational) nestled under one arm. I wanted to understand the world, and I know you do, too, which is why you’re reading this column right now.
When I thought about the present, I wanted to know the history that led to it. I wanted to know the whys of human behavior, and I still do. It’s been a pleasure sharing that with you.
Over the years, I wrote about parenting, school reform, sex (one column, and my mother-in-law’s reaction dissuaded me from doing that again), science, the arts, social-service agencies, government, race, class, gender and at least one acrobat.
What was going on in my life and in the world always affected the mix of columns, because I tended to write about what was most powerfully on my mind at the time.
That included parenting and education when my son was younger. I’ve always written about race and class, though. One reason I wanted to get into journalism was that whenever I read a paper, I felt there was a lot left out or misinterpreted. I wanted to add to the conversation.
For the past few years, race and class have become so acute as issues that they sometimes dominated my thinking and writing. I wanted to combat harmful mythology and help people navigate our many areas of conflict.
Sometimes wrestling with tough issues drained me, but each time a reader said ‘Now I get it,’ I felt renewed resolve.
Newspapers pollinate communities, picking up information here and dropping it off over there, but lately not collecting much nectar in the process. Traditional media companies are starved for revenue and are being bought up by large companies that don’t have good journalism as their paramount goal.
I’ve been fortunate to work for a locally owned newspaper that is committed from the top down to good journalism in service of the community.
Good journalism requires a willingness to step outside one’s own bubbles.
When I speak to aspiring journalists, I tell them to read widely, to visit unfamiliar neighborhoods and strike up conversations with strangers. Brains need feeding.
I love learning new things and offering them up for other people to consider, so this has been a great job for me. Now my brain is ready for something different.
In my first column, I wrote about spending a year at home with our son, who was a year old. He’s 26 and in his third year of a Ph.D. program in inorganic chemistry at Stanford University. We all move on.
I’m going to explore life outside the newsroom, but you may hear from me again if the urge to share what I’ve learned gets too strong to resist.
Bye for now and best wishes.