A lasting legacy - Shawn Loughlin editorial
Here at The Citizen, we often reflect on the legacy of our work (or at least I do) and how it affects our readers and community members. I know I’ve written about this before, but the relentless week-after-week style of the work we do here can make it difficult to step back and evaluate the impact of our work. Whether it was The Citizen’s recent 35th anniversary or me penning my 500th column (at about this time last year, actually), reaching such a milestone can provide a perfect opportunity for reflection.
Journalism isn’t the only profession that can feel this way of course. Owners of a prominent business in a small town or a community theatre, for example, can be so bogged down in their day-to-day operations, working to stay afloat in an ever-changing world, only to look up one day and see that 50 years have passed.
This came to mind, however, when I saw that Marty Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, will be retiring – hanging up his red pen at the end of the month after nearly 45 years in the newspaper business.
To many – and on paper – Baron will seem like just another newspaper editor retiring after decades in the business, however, it’s easy to look at Baron’s list of achievements and see that he is probably the most successful editor working in newspapers in the last 40 years.
Success, courage and fearless reporting has been a hallmark of newspapers under Baron’s guidance. And while his newspapers have been awarded appropriately over the years, it is the impact he has had on the world that truly sets him apart from others doing the same job.
Newsrooms under Baron’s leadership have won 16 Pulitzer Prizes, including one just last year for explanatory reporting. And Pulitzer Prizes, just in case you’re wondering, aren’t simply handed out en masse to big newspapers every year, but earned through hard work, courage and dedication. He has guided some of the most important investigations in recent decades, with his staff publishing some of the most crucial journalism of the last 40 years.
Baron has worked at The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Over that time, he led The Globe’s investigation into widespread sexual abuse in Boston’s Catholic Church parishes and then oversaw work on the Secret Service, Donald Trump and the food stamp program in Washington, D.C.
When you read all of that, it’s breathtaking to think of Baron’s impact, but no doubt he has spent his life focusing on the next day’s issue since he began working as a journalist in 1976.
Baron’s impact on not just the world of journalism, but really the world itself, is immeasurable, but it’s not until you sit down and string all of his achievements together that you realize it – and that’s because of the nature of his work. Producing something day after day overshadows the vast body of work.
If Baron were a novelist, for example, and worked day after day for years at home, only to produce one of the world’s great novels, his accomplishment would be clear and tangible. However, because his work and the work of his reporters is of a daily nature, lining bird cages the next day, it’s easy to miss the lasting impact of the work being done. It’s only when you stop to reflect that you can grasp the influence he and others like him have had on the world, which has to be challenging.
Try to look around and appreciate the impact being made by those around you. It can be easy to miss and hard to find at times, but people are shaping your world every day and they deserve a nod for all they do.