Stone's Throw

Flying Through Space on a Giant Rock and My Return to Journalism

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This past Friday evening I found myself in a hotel room in Albany, feeling like I’d just been propelled through something akin to a time warp.

I’d just stepped away for a few minutes from a New York Press Association conference seminar at the Hilton, returning a call from an off-the-record source.

I was buttoning up a detail with the legislative staffer for a powerful column that should be ready for publication by next week’s edition, right here in this space.

And somehow, someway, while discussing some arcane legislative nuance, the source and I veered off course to a super light topic — the mystery of the universe.

The rush of thoughts hurtling me back to events from 2007 that seeded this newspaper started when we commented on the potential peril and possibility of artificial intelligence. We briefly discussed technology’s light and dark magic.

Then the source said something that really struck me.

3rd Rock from the Sun

I didn’t record the exact quote but it was something like: “Yeah, that’s all amazing but even just life itself is magical. Think about it, we’re all flying through space on this giant rock. Earth has been here for billions of years. And we’re here for like a nanosecond.”

The subtext of the conversation, at least for me, was about how we all need to try to make the world a better place during our brief stay here, even if in just some small way, and even if just within our tiny personal orbits.

And, if blessed with enough good fortune, we need to spend as much precious time as possible with the people and projects we’re passionate about.

It’s a lesson that currently possesses considerable personal resonance for me, after taking about 15 years away from daily writing and reporting.

I’ve told some of this Examiner origin story before but not all of it. I usually start with the yellow legal pad but this time I’ll start the story a little earlier in its progression.

That gets me back to the time warp.

Saratoga Springs

It was a Friday evening in the spring of 2007, and I found myself in a hotel room in Saratoga, attending the annual New York Press Association conference with my dad. I was filling him in on some of what I was working on.

Just a few months earlier, I had quit my job as a reporter for the now-defunct “North County News” in Yorktown, to start a career as an independent reporter-for-hire.

As a 28-year-old freelancer, I was filled with plenty of energy to pitch my services, and I quickly landed assignments for “The New York Times” and “The Daily News,” among others.

The press association conference that year was a thrill. By the end of the weekend, I’d secured some nice honors, including second place in the annual Writer of the Year competition, and I also got to hear an AP executive discuss the future of news in a digital world.

My father was very proud, which is everything for a son.

My wife and I had recently started a family, and I should have felt completely fulfilled, personally and professionally. Yet something felt missing on the professional front.

Itchy & Scratchy Show

By that summer, I was playing a lot of tennis, and still trying to scratch some invisible professional itch. But I didn’t know where or what it was.

Then, one night, while lying in bed, still filled with tennis-fueled endorphins, the nature of the itch struck me.

Even though I’d spent the past eight or so years – in college and the newspaper pros – honing my journalistic chops, there was also an entrepreneur residing inside of me, screaming to get out.

One of my favorite experiences as a college student was helping to build and grow Hofstra’s magazine. As it turned out, I wanted to publish and sell the news, not just report, write and edit it.

I dashed downstairs to the basement of our old condo in Mount Kisco, and prepared a long to-do list on a yellow legal pad.

If I diligently and methodically checked each and every one of these boxes, I said to myself, I’d have myself at least one edition of a newspaper.

I came back upstairs hours later, and my wife awoke briefly. “I’m starting a newspaper,” I told her.

The reply was something akin to a loving “yes, dear,” before she dozed back to sleep.

Mission Possible 

I talked with my dad and sister about the idea the next morning, and within a day or so I connected with the great Martin Wilbur, who’d been the assistant editor during my time as a reporter at “North County News.”

Once Martin committed to the mission, agreeing to join “The Examiner” launch as our founding editor-in-chief, I knew we were off and running toward something big.

The night of the yellow legal pad to-do list was in August. By the next month, on Sept. 11, 2007, The Examiner was born.

As exciting as it all was, I quickly realized how my new title of publisher had sort of robbed me of a title I valued more, the one of reporter.

I immediately missed the reporting life, but knew I needed to focus my attention on building a business, and keep my commitment to a growing list of employees and readers.

The instinct to go cover a story – and not just pay the printing bill to publish it – wasn’t yet totally vanquished. There was one Tuesday evening where I sort of snuck over to a local municipal board meeting. I figured I’d bang out a story for Martin. He had a scheduling conflict.

But the moment I sat down in the audience with my dusty reporter’s notebook, I knew I was in the wrong place. I slunk out of the municipal hall and away from reporting for most of the next decade-and-a-half.

Back to the Future 

It was a confluence of post-pandemic events that initially got me writing a little bit in 2020, and even more recent circumstances late last year that separately got me reporting some again.

While most of my days are still spent on publishing tasks, it’s been enormously rewarding to feel like I can play a small part in our journalistic efforts, at least in certain select ways, while not abandoning my primary post.

After I spoke with that legislative staffer last Friday night, I went for beers and burgers with some colleagues at the “Highlands Current.” Their passion for the trade was inspiring, and I was thrilled when my new friends were announced for award after award at the conference. “The Current” was ultimately named Newspaper of the Year, for the second straight year; this time tied with the “Times Union” of Albany.

The next morning and afternoon, I got some nice news as well. I’d won a first-place prize for best editorials, a third-place award for best column, and The Examiner earned second place for best e-mail newsletter of 2022.

It was a gratifying culmination of my return to the craft.

While it made sense for a few of those early Examiner years to stay away from reporting and even much writing, returning to both in recent months has me now realizing I probably stayed away for too long.

Be on the lookout for my column next week. Yes, it involves Optum/CareMount, and it’s one of the most sensitive, impactful stories I’ve ever been tasked to tell.

When flying through space on a giant rock for a nanosecond, you better pack in as much passion as possible, sharing your values with the world.

Enjoy the ride.

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