Essex column: The honor of being close to our communities |

Essex column: The honor of being close to our communities

I’ll start Thanksgiving week by expressing my gratitude for the three and a half years I got to help lead the Post Independent.

As many of you have read or heard, I’m leaving the gorgeous Roaring Fork Valley to return to the Detroit Free Press, where I worked from 2006-11. As a senior content director, I’ll get to lead business coverage, including on Detroit’s resurgence; and auto news, helping develop a national transportation coverage plan for the USA Today Network.

I said many times that I intended to stay with the PI until retirement, and I meant it every time. The professional potential combined with the fact that my wife and I had a good experience in Detroit ultimately swung the choice.

I’ve loved being so close to Garfield County’s communities and applying my community journalism formula: 1. Find the most important issues; 2. Do the best journalism we can about them using all the tools we have; 3. Use the paper’s bully pulpit and convening power to help with solutions.

I’m proud of our work on housing, transportation and immigration, issues that affect families, workers and institutions in our region every single day.

In 2015-16, our Price of Paradise series was followed by a housing forum attended by more than 100 people. As real estate values began soaring again after the recession and rents rose and became scarce, we helped reignite conversation about this issue. I was told that the process changed some thinking and strategies.

I’m particularly pleased about our persistent efforts to advocate decency toward immigrants — a third of Garfield County’s population, a quarter of its workforce and just over half of its school kids — through consistent coverage, a widely noted community forum this fall and nationally recognized editorials.

I diversified the opinion page, which features 13 monthly community columnists, seven of whom are reliably conservative and all of whom are thoughtful, good writers.

We started community events — the Common Ground issues forums I’ve led this year and that we will continue — and Adventures in Aging, which we’ve held for two years now.

Sure, I have critics, but as I told Aspen Public Radio last week, an editor who doesn’t have critics isn’t doing his job. Some made me think harder. Some amused me. I appreciate them all reading and caring.

As I leave, the PI staff is in good shape. The news staff, with the exception of Ryan Hoffman and Will Grandbois becoming editors of papers themselves, has been stable for two years.

The PI has dramatically extended its digital reach. When Mike Bennett became publisher in late 2013, we had about 1,000 Facebook followers. That number is near 15,000 now. We get somewhere between 850,000 and 1 million page views a month, demonstrating our news and advertising reach well beyond Garfield County.

Angela Kay is leading an advertising staff that’s committed to customer service as Glenwood Springs stands poised to bounce back from two years of bridge construction and as we prepare to double distribution of the weekly Rifle Citizen Telegram and make it free.

Colorado Mountain News Media is conducting a national search for a new editor, who will inherit a terrific staff covering a great set of communities.

For my part, I’m a lucky guy. Those of you who have met my wife, Angye, know that. Another aspect of it is that I’m a small-town Nebraska kid who’s gotten to live in diverse locales in jobs that require me to understand the demographics and forces that shape our lives.

In college, I got to work for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal. I started my post-college career in Abilene, Texas; then spent five years in Boise, where I fell in love with the West. I got to spend 18 years in Des Moines, watching presidential politics up close and getting to work in my first Pulitzer-winning newsroom. Then it was six years in Detroit and two in Cincinnati before my time here.

It’s been a graduate seminar in America that has deepened my love for the country and appreciation for the challenges we face as individuals and families.

Angye and I hope to come back here to retire and volunteer for English in Action and other programs, but first, we’ll live in downtown Detroit again.

When I left there in 2011, I wrote this on Facebook:

Everything you think you know about Detroit is true, but you don’t know the half of it.

Yes, it’s a tough town — also full of sweet people. They have looked over the abyss and pulled back with an entrepreneurial spirit. Detroit’s not done doing good things.

I think I’m a little like Detroit — not the prettiest, a little roughed up, a little in your face. And not done doing good things.

Thank you all.

Randy Essex is publisher and editor of the Post Independent through Dec. 1.

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