I guess you could say my “Herald Journey” is coming to an end.
After more than eight and a half years in Logan, I have accepted a job as editor/reporter at The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber in the state of Washington. It is a weekly publication serving the more than 10,000 residents of two connecting islands within the Puget Sound. Vashon and Maury are only accessible by ferry, but not too far from Seattle. The move will allow me to be closer to my parents, my brother and sister-in-law, who is beginning her Ph.D. at the University of Washington (Go, Huskies!).
Just a few months ago, being in charge of a newsroom is not something I thought was within my reach. I had dreams of being a reporter on a large staff at a metropolitan newspaper — but that did not materialize. I am fortunate, however, that the good folks at the Beachcomber’s parent company, Sound Publishing, placed confidence in and named me editor at an outstanding publication. The job seems a bit out of my comfort zone right now, but I think I’ll become a better newsman by trying something new. It’s the only way to grow professionally.
That outlook exactly sums up how I feel about being promoted to features editor at the HJ. My supervisor asked me if I was interested in the job, and I thought about it for a day, completely nervous. Then, I came into the office the following morning and said I was ready to jump off the highest diving board and into the pool, so to speak.
Being the HJ’s features editor has forced me to think like a leading editor in terms of what stories should run; copy editing other people’s columns without lending my voice; how pages should be laid out; and making sure our special sections are completed in a timely manner.
I can’t talk about The HJ without acknowledging the fact that it is really my first journalism job out of college. While I got a freelance contract at the weekly Kirkland (Washington) Reporter right out of school, being in Logan really taught me about the daily grind of being a reporter — finding my own story ideas and writing on a deadline daily; weekend work and shooting my own photos. It’s been journalism bootcamp and reporting 101 rolled into one, and I’m better for it.
I remember my first day on the job, the day before my 24th birthday. I was met in the newspaper’s parking lot on 300 North by managing editor, Charlie McCollum, who greeted me infectiously and introduced me to the staff that had arrived early on a Monday morning. I was then given an email address and shown my desk, which had employment paperwork and stuff about USU on it. It hit me that I now had a real job and I had to do everything possible to be successful.
Oddly enough, I did not file a story that day. Instead, I went around town and introduced myself to people on my beats. But given the number of stories I’ve written and how routine it’s become to write stories on a deadline, I’m surprised I didn’t at least volunteer to write a brief or something. My first story, a report on a panel discussion at USU featuring various faith leaders discussing gay marriage, was filed the next day.
One thing I don’t think our readers think about enough is that being a reporter at a local newspaper doesn’t mean you only talk to groups or people in your coverage area. While I’ve talked to thousands of sources in Cache Valley, my coverage has included calling federal government agencies like U.S. State Department, the White House and the FBI, even other countries, like Australia. I called the State Department’s 24-hour hotline (they thought my name was “Harold”) and interviewed a source with an Australian nonprofit at 11 p.m. because of the 16-hour time difference.
The stories I’ve covered through the years here are eclectic — I would be hard pressed to think of a topic I haven’t covered. Early on in my tenure, I went out to College Ward to inspect a farmer’s vole-infested pastures. In 2017, I went to the Capitol in Salt Lake City with photo editor Eli Lucero to cover President Donald Trump’s only visit to Utah (so far).
Sure, in this “Herald Journey,” there were bumps along the way. I made mistakes and had to write my share of corrections. Some people emailed or called me after a story ran to say they were very upset. I made amends in those relationships and have taken responsibility for my errors. It’s so important for any news reporter or outlet to do that.
So now, I’m getting ready to hit the road. The movers will pack up my apartment on Aug. 31 and I’ll leave the valley that afternoon. It might be natural to assume that my stress will only build, thinking about my new job. But oddly enough, I think I’ll find myself in a state of tranquility driving on the highway heading to my new home.
I don’t think I’ll stop being interested in what goes on in Cache Valley. I’ll check on hjnews.com occasionally, but you won’t see me chiming in with a letter to the editor — I am still a reporter, after all, and I have a responsibility to keep opinions to myself.
Perhaps the only opinion I can offer without objection, though, is that Cache Valley has been good to me. I will miss this place and never forget the impact it has had on my professional career. I am thankful!
Kevin Opsahl has been the features editor at The Herald Journal for the past nine months. He started at the Herald Journal in 2010 covering higher education, agriculture, business and general assignments.