August 18, 2005
This weekend’s edition of the Martha’s Vineyard Agricultural Society’s Annual Livestock Show and Fair is a crossroads of the summer season. A watershed moment.
As the busy, sun-blasted summer days knock themselves off one by one, a bit of the feverishness with which the season began has worn away. We are not as hot for the good times as we were in June. The fair turns up to remind us that all that frantic loopiness can be curiously unrewarding.
Better to spend a few days at the fair, which this year, as always, may be counted on to repay dividends. Good fun, good friends, a brief sense of what real farm communities were like, and a lesson: that simple pleasures, slow to change, are best after all.
The people who join your business change it — sometimes slightly, sometimes profoundly — in their own likenesses. Of course, this is not unique to the newspaper business, but it is especially true and unmistakable in journalism. Each photographer has an eye, each writer a voice; each editor has interests unlike those of the editor who came before. Each graphic artist chooses different typefaces, uses more or less white space, and selects images that are bolder or subtler than the preceding designer did. What’s news to this reporter is ho-hum to that one. Over the years, The Times has had editors who were deeply interested in the trials of special parents and their special children, in dance, or theatre, or fiction, or fishing, or conservation or lesbian fiction, or alternative health care and little known religions, and each shifted the paper’s course slightly to embrace those interests.
Karen MacKay joined The Times two and a half years ago to design and build The Times’s web site, which had gone through several previous incarnations with variable success. Karen was a meticulous planner, and a thoughtful designer. Her recreation of The Times’s web site won awards, and after she had built the basics, she began to add features we hadn’t asked for, hadn’t thought of, didn’t know we needed, but discovered that we did. And she began to draw her funny, gimlet-eyed cartoons to publish in the newspaper and on the web site. At first, she offered one now and again. Soon, it was one every week. We hadn’t known it, but her askance look at the life we all live, at the assumptions we all share, and at the absurdities that we would certainly overlook if she hadn’t faced us with them, were part of the way we looked at things sometimes. Each week, she brought a cartoon, we looked carefully, then smiled and nodded in recognition.
For all of her brief time with us, Karen was sick. Along with her technical skills and her cartoons, she gave us the chance to share her brave confrontation with deadly illness. She gave us the chance to be friends and helpers, colleagues, admirers, and now mourners. We’ll go on, but not the way we were before she joined us, changed us, and then left.