Today’s issue of The Times is the last that will emerge from the particular calculus Doug Cabral has brought to newspapering on Martha’s Vineyard. Doug has been editor of The Martha’s Vineyard Times for 28 of its 30 years, an owner for 25, and Barbara’s and my partner (with his wife Molly) since 1996.
In my experience Doug is a reserved fellow, economical in conversation and favoring direct expression and only modest displays of emotion. He’s also consistent (stubborn?) in his point of view. He says he’s had a good time getting The Times out, but that 28 years is enough, and that it’s time to do something different. I take him at his word.
He shouldn’t, though, get to slip out the door without notice on these pages. Such a long regime and the event of this transition deserve a bit of expansiveness, because after all these years what we are as a community newspaper, team effort notwithstanding, is a function of where Doug has taken us. And since beginning today we proceed without him, all the more reason to think a bit on what The Times sets out to do each day.
Publishing and editing serious community newspapers and websites like ours is a complicated exercise. It requires commitment to practicing the craft and profession of journalism at the highest possible level, tolerance for managing in a difficult business environment, and passion for finding relevance in the chaotic new order of digital content. For chain-owned newspapers or for those with narrow social, political, and constituent interests, reliably delivering on these essentials has proved daunting enough.
Doug understood early on, though, that for there to be a valuable role for The Times in the Vineyard community, professionalism, opportunistic business strategies, and a nimble web presence were necessary but not in themselves sufficient, especially for a community newspaper consciously setting out 30 years ago to challenge and disrupt the seemingly closed media ecosystem of Martha’s Vineyard. To be legitimate, The Times needed to perform an essential community job.
Being useful editorially has meant maintaining a clear vision of the inescapable interdependency of all Islanders and all of the systems and institutions making up a healthy Vineyard community. And also of course maintaining the intellectual rigor needed to look at each incremental public choice through that lens. Doug defined The Times’s usefulness by insisting on treating Islanders — seasonal and year-rounder alike — like a real community, multi-layered and messy. Doug’s editorials were never intended to find and then amplify conventional wisdom and Vineyard clichés. They were intended to help us see our choices through the many sensibilities our community encompasses.
Trying to characterize our view of editorial leadership and the opinions we publish for your consideration in terms of ideology and the passions and language of narrow issues — liberal or conservative, development versus conservation, pro-this or pro-that — is tempting but ultimately unhelpful, however resonant each issue may be for one or another Times constituent. We could entertain fellow believers or tease those who differ, but in our view single issue polemics don’t on their own do much to illuminate our community and our choices.
In the course of crafting perhaps 1,500 Times editorials, Doug did his best to make sure that we were always posing the same question — what does this warrant article, or proposal, or project, or candidate, or for that matter this obituary — what does this mean for all of us, for the whole Vineyard community? Sometimes channeling his inner H.L. Mencken, sometimes E. B. White, Doug prodded and chided so we would take it all in.
For 28 years this vision and discipline (have I said stubbornness?) have been all Doug’s, and while we may have sometimes disappointed you, or failed to make a perfect case, Doug has known, and tried to teach the rest of us, what a truly useful newspaper should be.