It was May 2010, and after a three-year reporting stint at The Chronicle, I was heading off on a journalistic adventure in Montana.
Chronicle Executive Editor Michael Wagar and I had just enjoyed a farewell beverage in downtown Centralia when he surprised me with a quick hug and a few kind words.
“You were one of the good ones,” he said.
The parting statement meant a lot to me. In fact, it made my day. Having been around the newsroom in one form or another since my first internship in 2004, I knew what he meant. Reporters come and go. They’re often transient in nature, always looking for the next job in some far flung corner of the country, as evidenced by my own temporary exodus to Montana. They’re not always invested in the community and, frankly, some are not missed upon their departure.
Michael’s opinion — that I was a “good one” — meant a lot to me at the time, and even more so all these years later.
That’s because Michael is what I would call a reporter’s editor, the type of newsroom leader who shows interest in the subject matter of his reporters and works hard to make them better. He gets genuinely excited over a hot news tip or a funky feature that highlights a little-known aspect of life in the coverage area, and so long as the news is flowing, he’s always smiling.
He’s a general of sorts when it comes to breaking news, bringing the staff together to work in comprehensive fashion when flooding, fires or any other catastrophe lands on Lewis or Thurston county’s doorstep.
It’s the type of leadership that has endeared many a young reporter to him while also generating dozens of awards for journalistic excellence. The Chronicle, for instance, had never won a C.B. Blethen Award for Distinguished Reporting prior to his arrival at the company in 2001. Since he came to town, the newspaper has won about 20 of them. The Nisqually Valley News and The Reflector each won General Excellence awards with Michael at the helm as president and publisher.
Aside from his professional prowess, Michael is among the kindest and considerate superiors I’ve ever had the pleasure to work for.
During the widespread Chehalis River Basin flooding of December 2007, as he worked around the clock to help produce news for what was then a daily edition of The Chronicle, he made time to call an elderly woman in West Lewis County each night to update her on the happenings as the destruction prevented the delivery of her newspaper.
When a coworker’s mother became ill, he insisted he leave work to be with her despite being short-staffed. When my best friend died last year, he checked in on me repeatedly, always noting there are more important things than work.
There has never been a time when my own personal struggles were not met with complete understanding, offers of time off and additional support and assistance from Michael. Many others would tell the same story.
He’s a journalist who genuinely cares about the people he works with and the communities he covers, and it shows both in the newspapers he’s produced and the relationships he’s made inside the newsroom and out.
Last week, Michael announced that he would be departing Lafromboise Communications — where he held various leadership roles with the Nisqually Valley News, The Chronicle and The Reflector — to pursue new professional opportunities.
His departure is, in part, driven by his desire to return to a newsroom, and what a lucky newsroom that will be.
My career was largely shaped by Michael, who took a chance on an 18-year-old college student all those years ago. He gave me my first internship and my first full-time reporting gig, and he helped spark in me a love for local journalism that I’ll endeavor to pass on to others.
I’m forever thankful for his influence on my life.
So long, boss.
You’re one of the great ones.
Eric Schwartz is regional executive editor for Lafromboise Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.