A Sense of Place 

Journalists are gypsies by nature. To get good stories, we have to be peripatetic, willing to go anywhere, talk to anyone. Too often, we serve hard time in far-flung places, straining our personal relationships and eating rotten, unfamiliar food. We do this because we love it.


Someday, if you are lucky, you’ll get lucky. Someone will offer you a great job in a beautiful place, hand you the keys to the newsroom and say ‘enjoy.’ Afflict the comfortable. Comfort the afflicted. Take no prisoners.


When I was offered the opportunity to come to Salt Lake City, I could feel the journalistic gods smiling down on me. This newspaper has it all: enlightened ownership, a smart-as-a-whip staff, a high profile and a great community to write about.


A little about me: I’m a fifth-generation Californian—not one of those horrible newbies who move all over the West throwing their money around and acting like God’s gift to civilization. My great-great-grandfather came to that state in 1857 over the southern route, which had been cut through desert canyons 10 years earlier by the Mormon Battalion—a member of which, I learned recently, was a great-great-grandfather of the publisher of this newspaper. It’s a small, young world. And I’m not a Mormon, for what it’s worth. Call me a jack Presbyterian.


I’ve worked at papers in Minnesota, North Carolina, California and now here, making this my fourth time zone. I’ve learned a thing or two about this business in the process, but don’t expect to see a lot of big changes, at least not initially. This paper will remain the same opinionated lightening rod it has always been.


One thing I’ve learned is that great writing and reporting are what define great newspapers. When I don my green eyeshade and pull out my red pen, my goal will be to continue this paper’s tradition as the best read on the Wasatch Front. We’ll engage the reader’s intelligence, not insult it. We’ll strive for fairness, not balance (or its cousin, objectivity), and there’s an important distinction.


The old, awful joke about balance is that it requires giving equal time to both Hitler and the Jews. In striving for fairness, you must give the devil his due, even if you conclude he’s still the devil. Unlike at daily papers, the kind of magazine-style writing found in this and similar weeklies allows for a moral center of gravity. It can be hard to find sometimes, but our search for it will define who we are as a newspaper.


I’ve traveled enough to know that when you’re new in town, people have a right to size you up, be a bit suspicious of your intentions, and assume you will never fit in until you prove to them otherwise. I accept those conditions of employment, and welcome your input. But I will say this: as a Westerner, there is a lot about Salt Lake City I liked immediately, and a lot more I’ve already learned to like in the short time I’ve been here. I don’t expect that trend to change.


A friend wrote to me the other day and said that newspapers are about a sense of place. Be patient, he said. Watch and learn, and things will go fine. I expect that to be the case. This is the place for me, and I’m very happy to be the new editor of Salt Lake City Weekly.

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John Yewell

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