Friday, October 1, 2010

Reporter's Notebook

John McDonagh can be reached at

How I’ll remember Tom

We represented two different forces – related, yet competing – in an industry that thrived for decades on a strict separation of the two vital functions of a daily newspaper: reporting the news, and the selling of advertising. By my estimation we respected that difference to the benefit of the readers, the advertisers, the paper and our relationship.

That wasn’t the only difference between the two of us. It turns out he was 20 years my senior. While I may have known that at one point, his passion for the outdoors and high level of involvement in professional and community activities must have dropped the age difference from my consciousness. Then there was the fact that while he was a Dawg, a graduate of the University of Washington, I hailed from the land-grant university in the Palouse, Washington State University. This difference brought a set of tensions all its own.

However, it is not the differences between Tom
Koenninger and me that I will remember. Rather it is how willingly Tom accepted me as a member of the management team at The Columbian; how when coverage involved businesses in the community he would readily seek my perspective – but never in a way that would compromise the story or even influence the reporting. Tom understood that the stories we presented to our readers created consequences – consequences for our readers, consequences for the subjects of those stories and consequences for the paper. Tom was the kind of editor who always wanted to understand, if he could, what those consequences might be.

Tom was first and foremost an active member of the community in which he reported and wrote about. As such, he never took his professional role lightly, because any unintended consequence could have a detrimental effect on his community – and that concerned him.

His involvement didn’t come without criticism from the professional ranks, some of whom were on his news staff. Tom wasn’t worried about his ability to write the story that needed to be written or to direct his reporters to write that story regardless of his community activism. His role as editor was to be certain the story that needed telling was told; his role in the community was to make this the best community it could be. I think Tom knew if he performed well as an editor, the community would be better off.

Tom’s passing puts an exclamation point on a transition taking place in our community, which I wrote about recently (To Everything . . . There is a Season). Organizations have succession plans that allow for someone to be appointed to carry the mantle of the position. As a community, I think we are without a succession plan in this case. I don’t see anyone who will provide the perspective in the way the man who grew up milking cows here in the county did or who will coax the community in word and action to be better in the way Tom was able to do for nearly 40 years.

Yesterday journalism lost one of its staunchest practitioners, and the community lost a dear friend: Tom