Former newspaper staff members of the Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard gathered for a "golden era" reunion

Former staffs of the Eugene (Oregon) Register-Guard gathered for a "golden era" reunion in what used to be the newspaper building.

By Jacqui Banaszynski

This past weekend, I attended a “golden era” reunion of newsroom staffers from the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon. Fourteen hours of driving, much of it in gridlock freeway traffic, for four hours of catch-up with people I worked with 45 years ago.

I don’t like to dwell on the rear-view reality of having reached a golden era. The invitations might as well have said “old-timers.” Yet there is no question that my time in Eugene was golden, in both my personal life and in the profession of journalism.

I worked as a reporter at the Guard, as we called it, in my late 20s. It was, at the time, considered one of the best small city newspapers in the country. I was working in Duluth, Minnesota, in my second full-time newsroom, stumbling my way through the early-career dance of ambition and insecurity, when the Guard posted an opening. I applied at the urging of a then-boyfriend who had spent time in the Pacific Northwest, a place of majesty I had never visited outside of books. I guess my bylined work showed enough chops to open the door to a newspaper that didn’t often hire outside the state and didn’t often, if ever, hire women as news reporters. I spent three years at the Guard, then moved back to Minnesota to a much bigger newsroom. But the Guard years left an imprint that defines me to this day.

I was tapped to speak a bit at the reunion. I fretted about that on the long miles from Seattle to Eugene, and pretty much right until the clock told me I had to stand in front of former colleagues and hit the verbal SEND button. I was keenly aware of the bittersweet reality of this reunion — not just because of the list of people no longer with us, but because of the diminishment of the Guard itself. It is the faintest shadow of its one-time self. Gannett/Gatehouse has gutted it in ways that leave west-central Oregon lacking the robust journalism that it and every community deserves. That shadow wisped through our reunion conversations, but didn’t dominate: We all know the score, so no use dwelling. I was especially glad to see two or three of the reporters who are now what is left of the Guard news staff and, in my talk, made sure to end with a toast of hope to them.

The core of my short talk went to the heart of what made my time at the Guard special: It’s where all my professional learning and yearning crystallized into the journalist I wanted to be.

A lifelong imprint of values

The Guard is where I learned that the mission of journalism starts and ends with service to a community. Where that service is not defined by the size of a community or the size of a masthead, but by the relationship between citizens of a democracy and the independence of journalism. Where no story is greater or lesser, and all deserve the best you can deliver. Where the best starts with showing up, is defined by paying attention, and ends with staying as long as the story requires. Where no story really ends, so you go back to sources with better questions until you get the answers the community deserves. Where a beer with colleagues after deadline can be a better education than graduate school.  Where colleagues whose personal lives and beliefs are 180-degrees apart from yours can find a mutual center in the value of journalism. Where ego and ambition and insecurities are only useful as drivers to do better journalism. Where industry awards are nice, but the true award is in the response of readers.

If this all sounds like noble idealism, I’m grateful to say it was. I’m also proud to say any ideals we achieved were because we worked, hard and long, with a foundation not only of purpose — but of joy.

It’s not that all my joy came from the work. That’s also the time in my life when I first waded into the clear waters of the Pacific, stood under trees so tall they dizzied, camped on a snowy mountain slope, tasted artichoke and avocado and King crab. It’s where I lost a car to the ash of Mount St. Helens, trailed firefighters deep into smoldering forests, learned to breathe deeply enough to run a marathon, and made friends who became family. It’s where I met Mountain Editor.

I tend to think it’s where I grew up. But apparently I’m not finished with that. A beloved editor from my Guard years, who is now 94, still sends me emails to correct me when I write “since” when I mean “because,” and who insists that, in proper English usage, children aren’t “raised” but are “reared.”

Try as I might, I can’t wrap my head around “reared.” So I’ll just say I was blessed to have been raised up in that golden time in that golden place. I wish a version of the same for everyone who believes in this work.

* * *

A version of this essay was first published as a Storyboard newsletter on June 28, 2024.

Most popular articles from Nieman Storyboard