As Vashon fades in distance, editor says goodbye

The pandemic has hit the journalism industry hard. But please, islanders: Keep reading.

Kevin Opsahl

Kevin Opsahl

Dear islanders: I’ll miss you. Thank you for everything.

That is not something I thought I’d be writing this year, just months into my new job as editor of The Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber.

But unfortunately, I am one of many in the newspaper’s parent company, Sound Publishing, who suddenly finds themselves unemployed. The coronavirus pandemic — unthinkable just a few months ago — has dealt a crushing blow to our economy, leaving business leaders with little choice but to let go of some very talented people in the workforce.

When I received a phone call from the company last week, I could tell the person on the other end of the line hated to be the bearer of bad news. I asked a few questions, but I told them I was thankful for my time with The Beachcomber and we ended the conversation on a positive note. My parents, who were in the room to listen, commended me for the way I handled the call and reminded me that the company’s decision had nothing to do with my performance.

I’ve received phone calls with the news that I fell short of landing a job, but I’ve never been let go of one. Watching TV that night, I recalled the film “Up in the Air,” the 2009 movie in which George Clooney plays a businessman whose job it is to go around the country tell people they’ve been fired. The opening scene begins with a montage of employees saying some of the most unimaginable things in reaction to losing a job. They do not represent how I would behave in a professional situation.

But, if I can be somewhat candid, I’ll say that being unemployed is not fun. There’s the immediate hurt of knowing you had a job one day and will not the next, but then there’s the stress of uncertainty — of not knowing what to do or what will come next.

My immediate future will entail looking for jobs. So I’ll be cruising job sites and sending in my spruced up resume (thanks to my graphic designer brother) and application materials to potential employers. My family reminded me this unexpected departure is a time for me to evaluate what I want to do next. Do I want to be a reporter or reinvent myself? Stay tuned!

I can’t close out this column without reflecting on my time at The Beachcomber.

I did not set out to overhaul the newspaper. It was — and, fortunately, still is — a weekly publication covering an island. It’s got articles from reporters who know how to do good journalism and thought-provoking commentaries not from the George Wills of the world, but from everyday people in the community. We had parents and coaches contribute and provide the lifeblood of our Sports section. This editor didn’t want to change what wasn’t broken.

If anything, my goal as editor was to keep together a solid team of newsmen and women, making sure we were delivering the news people need — and then, of course, adding my own little flare each week by authoring the Editorial on page six.

Here’s how I know The Beachcomber team was successful: we’d provide feedback to each other and oftentimes, change minds. This certainly became more true once we started covering the coronavirus pandemic. I don’t mind admitting that on the same week the Vashon Island School District halted in-person classes I was seriously considering an editorial urging the school board to examine starting classes later in the day because I could not envision the editorial being about the same topic (coronavirus) two weeks in a row. I was reminded by the news team, however, that these were unprecedented times and I should devote the space to saying how we will remain a vigilant, trusted news source. They were right, I was wrong. So, you see, that is just one instance that shows the editor is not the sole genius of the newspaper.

My wish is for The Beachcomber to succeed going forward. The pandemic has hit the journalism industry hard. But please, islanders: Keep reading, subscribing and being supportive of the talented staff here, and I think we’ll emerge on the other end of this in good shape.

When I get on the ferry to go home to the Eastside, I won’t get out of my car to help prevent the spread of the virus. But maybe I’ll just close my eyes and think of that big, beautiful island oasis fading in the distance behind me.

Kevin Opsahl is the former editor of The Beachcomber. He currently resides in Kirkland, Washington.

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