If you know, you know. That symbol above alerts an editor that he’s reached “the end” of a story. Friday marks the end of my 42-year journalism story — a career that spans parts of five decades.
Yes, I started as a baby.
My interest in journalism was launched by two reporters named Woodward and Bernstein. As much as I loved baseball as a kid, I was lured to the front of a TV set in the summer of 1973 by the Watergate hearings. That’s not normal behavior for a 10-year-old boy, but I was hooked. A president resigned, his staff was being held accountable, and justice was being served all because two reporters, a source, and their editor and publisher believed the truth — no matter how ugly — needed to be told.
My first byline was published in much the same way we publish budding journalists in the High School View. I joined a club in high school called “The Octopus,” and the news page was published in our weekly newspaper, the Old Colony Memorial. That first story was co-written by my friend and fellow journalist, Gregory Mathis. (Years later, we would work together at the OCM.) We had broken the story that dozens of teachers were getting pink slips because of a fledgling law — Proposition 2½, which restricts the amount a town can increase taxes on property owners to 2½ percent without votes at town meeting and at town elections.
There have been many more scoops throughout the years, all done with one phrase in mind: “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.”
As a kid, I always hoped I could one day marry two of my passions — writing and sports. It never quite worked out that way, though I did steal a few bylines through the years on the sports pages of the various news organizations where I worked.
In my early 20s, I took a brief detour into the world of sales, thinking money was the most important thing. My dad, knowing I was destined for something different, clipped an ad out of a Cape newspaper. They were looking for a sports reporter. I applied and walked out with an offer to become an editor.
When I mentioned this to my family, my sister spoke to a friend of hers who was a publisher. He reached out, interviewed me, and offered $50 more a week than the Cape newspaper. Three weeks later, I showed up for work. That publisher had been fired (no, it’s not because he hired me), but I was welcomed by the new publisher in what was the first of many strange occurrences in this business.
Thanks to my dad for the push I needed, and my sister for the break I didn’t know I wanted.
I’ve seen a lot of changes through the years. Some made the job easier, like moving from manual paste-up using pica poles, proportion wheels, and X-Acto knives to computer pagination. In the process, we lost some magicians of the craft, and characters like Dan Miller, as a result. Other changes, we had no idea the impact they would have, like the internet and social media. Both make it easier for us to deliver the news to you faster, but they’ve also stolen some of the ad base we once enjoyed, and have made it far too easy for armchair editors to criticize reporters.
Many of these changes developed during my 19 years at Memorial Press Group (MPG) in Plymouth. By the time I left MPG in 2004, I was managing all 10 of their weekly newspapers.
Fast-forward to six years ago: I was sure my days as a reporter and editor had come to an end after 13 more years at the Cape Cod Times as a bureau chief. I left the Cape Cod Times on a buyout after it was clear that Gatehouse (later swallowed by Gannett) was taking the wrecking ball to one of the best regional daily newspapers in the country. I’d seen this act before. Gatehouse purchased the newspapers where I cut my journalism teeth. Seeing the slow decline of a once great journalism powerhouse on the South Shore was maddeningly sad. Seeing proud and effective journalists cast aside in the name of corporate greed at the Cape Cod Times was too much to bear.
I’ve often said that if any other industry was doing this to its employees, it would be on the front pages of every newspaper in the country.
After I left the Cape Cod Times, I took a gig curating a newsletter for the Boston Globe. I was working with a great team of reporters, led by business reporter Jon Chesto. Readers loved it, and I was having fun with it.
Sometimes, opportunity comes knocking.
I got an email message in February of 2017 that changed everything. It was from Jamie Kageleiry. She had heard about me through a mutual friend at WCAI, Sean Corcoran. She asked if I’d come talk about being the news editor of the Martha’s Vineyard Times.
Let me digress for a minute to talk about family. My wife, Corinne, and children, JoJo and Tommy, have made a lot of sacrifices so that I could do this job. I’ve done my best to strike a balance — going on field trips when possible, coaching youth sports, and attending almost every school function. But the news is a relentless beast. It happens when it happens. It doesn’t know the boundaries of holidays, special occasions, school functions, or dinners on the table.
So I owe whatever success I’ve had in this business to my family and their unwavering support and understanding.
Walking into The Times building at 30 Beach Road that first time in 2017 was a visceral feeling. My wife describes a similar feeling when she found our house in Falmouth. I knew the fit was right for me, I just had to convince Peter and Barbara Oberfest I was the correct choice for the job — and my wife and children that I had a little more sacrifice for them to endure.
My time here has been among the best of my career. I couldn’t ask for a better situation. The Times ownership has been fully committed to the Island, and bringing you the most comprehensive news coverage possible. Even a worldwide pandemic, which decimated our advertising base, didn’t alter their support for the importance of local news. We shut down our print edition for a few weeks, but our website was replenished daily with the latest on COVID-19 and how it was affecting our Island, because of their commitment to keep our full complement of reporters to work this important story.
As we and the world continue to recover from the pandemic, the Oberfests remain committed to Island journalism. And we are fortunate for that.
All across the country, there are news deserts — places where there is no local source of news. And even in some places where newspapers still exist, they are so decimated by the elimination of staff that they might as well not waste the paper and ink to print.
We’ve had a terrific run together, The Times and me, but I couldn’t have done it without the commitment and dedication of the Oberfests — and the amazing people I’ve had the honor of working with here in our Vineyard Haven office. I’ve asked a lot of the reporters, myself, and by extension my family.
I made one promise to the Oberfests and the staff of The Times. I would lead by example. I leave comfortable knowing that I kept that promise.
Now, I ask you, our readers, to continue supporting this news organization. You are fortunate to have a locally owned newspaper, one where you can drop in the office and meet and speak with the owner, the editor, or the staff. I hope you understand how great that is in a day where so many news organizations have been consolidated.
I leave with a feeling of immense gratitude. I commuted daily to one of the most beautiful places on Earth, have met some extraordinary people, made some tremendous new friends, and — at the risk of feeling the wrath of Eric Albert one more time — I have been witness to one of the most compassionate and caring communities one can imagine.
At the end of my shift on Friday, I’m retiring from the news business. But I’m smart enough not to say this is forever.
Thank you to The Times and to Martha’s Vineyard for welcoming me six years ago. And thanks to those of you who shared your stories with me.
For now …
Thank-you, George. For keeping it local without it feeling provincial. I’ve also appreciated the fact that when I had a question, you were there with the answer; as long as you knew the answer, you never handed me off to an intern. I hope that whoever takes your place has been paying attention. Happy trails.
George you will be greatly missed. Yours are big shoes to fill.
How would we ever get another editor that would put a story about a nutcase wearing a colander for his drivers license photo on the front page ?
And what about all those puns in the headlines ?
An Island editor extraordinaire for sure.
Few will miss you more than me.
Thank you and good luck George–
Peace,Love and Pasta…..
Thank you for your hard work, perseverance and dedication; have enjoyed reading the MV Times under your stewardship!
I confess a little pride — okay, a lot of pride — in connecting Jamie with Sean, in the hope she would land a wonderful editor with regional creds. What a stellar fit you turned out to be. Had you turned out otherwise, I would deny any connection to it. Thank you for the past six years. Wishing you all the best in your next chapter.
Thank you for all of your hard work.
I’m saddened to know that you will be gone! You were especially generous to me when I was trying to get more awareness to the “nip” bottle problem on this Island. And I will always remember your caring words when I saw you shortly after our dog Chester died. Wishing you well on your next venture!
Whenever the group I chaired (On Island Subcommittee of the Substance Use Disorder Coalition) needed a bit of PR, you were very kind and generous. A newspaper can do real things in a community because they are staffed with real people—not an algorithm to be found. Long live newspapers and good luck George!
Over the past years I’ve regularly said to myself- “Self, you need to drop this guy a line and tell him how constantly impressed I am with his work and how appreciated he is.” Tick-tock! I don’t even live on MV but read the MVTimes because of you. I’ve been a super fan since your Cape Cod Times days and will continue to be and I forbid you from going underground for too long. With kindest regards-Jack MacDonald
George, Thanks for the many years of reporting and editing. You’re gone before the flood waters overwhelm your desk. I’m looking forward to your next adventure.
Maybe a book?
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