THE NEWSROOM — It’s been a wild ride, but it’s time for me to get off this crazy train.

After roughly eight years as a journalist in this wonderfully complex city full of compassion and contradiction, I have decided to leave while I still have some sanity — and hair — left. But I won’t be going far. I have accepted the position of senior communications manager for Downtown Santa Monica, Inc., where I will be working just as hard to ensure Downtown remains a vibrant entertainment destination and economic engine so that Santa Monica can continue to take care of its own to the level they have become accustomed.

And believe me, if I don’t, I’ll certainly hear about it.

Daily Press Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera conducting interviews outside City Hall earlier this month. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

Daily Press Editor-in-Chief Kevin Herrera conducting interviews outside City Hall earlier this month. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@smdp.com)

That’s what’s been so great — and at times frustrating — about being a journalist in this town. People are extremely passionate about the bay city. It seems to be their most prized possession, a paradise that must be protected at all costs, which includes staying up past 2 a.m. on a weeknight to make sure your voice is heard at one of the notoriously long City Council meetings. (I will never forget those fatigue-fueled rants and am sure I’ll be attending a few in the near future.)

While some may have different opinions on how to protect Santa Monica, a city I have known since birth, there is always energy and enthusiasm, a willingness to participate in shaping this world.

I want to continue to play a role, which is why I am excited to be joining the team at Downtown Santa Monica, Inc. I spend nearly every waking moment in Downtown anyway so it just seemed to make sense.

When I graduated from the Annenberg School for Journalism at USC, I was filled with a sense of activism, a desire to do right and affect change. I began my career as a cub reporter under the tutelage of my mentor, the incomparable Betty Pleasant, at the Los Angeles Sentinel, the largest black-owned newspaper west of the Mississippi. It was a paper with foundations in the civil rights movement, championing the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign, which dissuaded African-Americans from patronizing businesses that had discriminatory hiring practices during the 1930s.

Ever since those humble beginnings, I have worked long hours with little pay because I felt compelled to tell stories of those who have been wronged. Integrity was paramount, as was an attention to proper grammar and the Associated Press Stylebook. Homonyms gave me trouble, as did the old “effect v. affect” battle, but I kept fighting. Many editors, including Don Wanlass, Andre Herndon, John Moreno, Michael Tittinger and the late Ron Dungee, gave me the encouragement I needed to never give up. I credit them for helping me understand the true importance of my profession.

Then the floor gave way and the industry began to tumble to the depths of “kittens get clicks.” As soon as I heard that phrase in a newspaper’s conference room during a discussion about “web strategy” (when I graduated from USC, no one even talked about the web), I knew my dreams were dead. It was no longer about shedding light on the corrupt or holding those in power accountable for their actions. It was about page views. How could I twist a headline to get someone to click on a link? What salacious details could I find to make a reader’s jaw drop and then share it on Facebook? It wasn’t about making a difference. It became all about survival.

More media outlets consolidated, papers folded, reporters were laid off and the Internet grew more powerful. Attention spans continued to deteriorate and long-form journalism, my favorite aside from court reporting, withered. That’s not what I signed up for and I have fought every day to maintain the integrity of the Santa Monica Daily Press and feel confident that the paper is in a good place and heading in the right direction, which is why I am at ease about leaving.

Sure, there are always more stories to cover, more PDFs and 100-page staff reports and cryptic e-mails to scour, but with a full-time staff of just three, I feel we’ve done a commendable job. Did we hit the mark 100 percent of the time? Of course not. But, we did make an impact. It’s not easy. So please, excuse the typos. (Rob, is it Rader, Radar or Radir?)

I leave the paper with a sense of pride, knowing that we’ve presented well-balanced articles and never compromised ourselves — despite what some would like to believe.

I say all this not to justify my leaving the profession, even though many journalists feel compelled to make some sense of it all, to have some dignity, as if starting a new career is something to be ashamed of. No, not me. I leave knowing I gave it my all and have no regrets — well, except that year or so covering entertainment. The food was great, but those celebrity press junkets can get pretty repetitive. (“So, how was it to work with … ”)

I must give thanks to my publisher, Ross Furukawa, and my former editor, Carolyn Sackariason, for their leap of faith in hiring a young reporter with no daily experience and then promoting him roughly two years later to editor-in-chief. Their guidance, support, critiques and willingness to step back and let me work helped me become a better journalist, manager and person. I am truly grateful for the roles they played in my career and will remember them fondly.

I would also like to thank my managing editor, Daniel Archuleta, and all of the staff writers, columnists, contributing writers and photographers who have helped me more than they probably know. You all are truly amazing people who did far more than you should have, but you did it because you care. That’s rare.

That same admiration goes to all of those in the community who gave me their time, shared their stories (some of which were very personal and emotionally painful) and offered their help over coffees, lunches and late night libations following a Planning Commission or school board meeting. Santa Monicans are very intelligent and generous people, willing to give you what you need to be a successful journalist, and that includes their slant as well as their criticism. I know we didn’t always agree on everything, but at least we could come together peacefully and hash things out. I can’t say that about some people and I hope, as the city moves forward, the discourse can be civil and respectful. Social media can be great for spreading the word, but it also can spread hate. Be careful how far you take it.

Santa Monica, it’s been real. Now, on to the next one.

 

kevinh@smdp.com

 

 

 

 

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