I was speaking with students in Aquebogue Elementary School teacher Bob Shilling’s fourth-grade class last week when one boy asked how long I’ve been with the paper.
I knew the answer off the top of my head: Feb. 18 is my 10th anniversary with Times Review.
It’s a number I never thought I’d get to. In fact, when former executive editor Denise Civiletti hired me as a reporter in February 2006, she asked for a verbal five-year commitment. I gave a half-hearted response, something along the lines of, “I don’t have plans to work anywhere else, but if Sports Illustrated came calling …”
Obviously, I never did get that call. And I truly believe I’m better off for it.
Times Review is where I met my wife and the mother of my child (soon to be children), a couple of my best friends and a team of loyal co-workers who give a lot of themselves to make this one of the best community newspapers in the country. Nineteen of those colleagues have been here longer than I have.
I’ve used this space before to give my backstory: how I grew up around newspapers with a father who worked for Suffolk Life and later Newsday, and how I always wanted to be a writer. I struggled in school and went to work in retail, but eventually took a second job as a part-time sports writer in southern California.
I sent my résumé to Times Review on my first afternoon back on Long Island and got a wake-up call the next morning from Denise — always the early riser, God bless her — who asked me to come in for an interview that morning.
With no opening for a sports reporter — that job had already been promised to a college senior named Joe Werkmeister, our current managing editor, who will reach 10 years in May — I interviewed for a general assignment post.
In 10 years, I estimate I’ve written a couple thousand stories for our newspapers.
I’d say my best one was an investigation into what little effort the Town of Brookhaven made to shut down dozens of rooming houses all owned by the same woman in Gordon Heights, despite major code violations. About 40 sex offenders lived in the houses, all within a two-mile radius. Follow-up stories by Newsday and CBS News (both of whom slapped exclusive tags on their work) and The New York Times helped lead to some legislation targeted at cleaning up the mess. Sadly, much of that problem still exists.
My biggest regret is a piece I wrote connecting a local woman to a celebrity in a fairly sensational way. Yes, there are stories I wish I could take back.
The most rewarding effort in my tenure would certainly be my team’s coverage of Hurricane Sandy, when a few of us maintained a live blog for 48 hours, taking turns sleeping on couches (or in Paul Squire’s case, sitting straight up in a chair) as our co-workers plugged away at the rest of that week’s paper, which we published on generators with a makeshift Internet connection. Throughout that long week, we checked on people’s properties for them and addressed their concerns through person-to-person reporting. It was a service we’d never provided before.
A lot has changed in the world of news since 2006, and that’s certainly been the case here at Times Review. An ownership transfer, a dramatic shift in the competitive landscape and outside forces that have altered the way people everywhere consume news have all occurred during my time here.
Early in my tenure, one of my biggest fears was having to cover news in Southold Town. It’s a highly engaged community with strong — and very mixed — feelings about the local paper, which has been in circulation since 1857 — a fact the sign outside my office reminds me of each day. The challenge has been blending expectations for that particular product with the need to update it to ensure it remains relevant for decades to come.
Having The Suffolk Times named the top weekly in the state and earning a second-place award for general excellence in a national competition last year definitely helps my colleagues and me feel better about the work we do.
But the fact that thousands of people still pay for our papers each week and many more log onto our websites daily, wholeheartedly embracing new products like northforker.com, is an even better reason for us to show up at work each morning. For that, I could never thank all of you enough.
I think I’m finally ready to give that verbal five-year commitment. And another one after that.
The author is the executive editor of Times Review Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected].