A fond farewell

Longtime Cambrian editor bids adieu

betling@thetribunenews.comJuly 10, 2014 

Bert Etling

PHOTO BY LAUREL MERCHANT

Hello again. And good-bye. When I first spilt ink here in September 2000, nearly 14 years ago, I wrote a weekly Editor’s Notes column which often included a few notes about “Things I’ve Learned about Cambria.”

How to navigate the parking lot at Cookie Crock was one lesson learned. Not to try and make a left turn from Cambria Drive onto Highway 1 after farmers market was another (that was before the traffic light went in; it’s much better — and safer — now).

At this writing, as I near the threshold of my final day today, July 10, some summing up is in order, so here are a few more things I’ve learned about Cambria:

Cambrians are the envy of visitors. They want to live here. They admire the exquisite natural setting, the friendly hometown vibe, the fine selection of shops and restaurants, the galleries and theaters, a wonderful museum, all the cultural and natural resources that make this a very special place. 

Cambrians can be cantankerous. That’s a good thing. They care, and they say it. I’ve heard several times about how Cambrians (figuratively) line up on opposite sides of Main Street and throw stones at each other on any given issue. Then they switch to the next issue, and half the people from each side walk across the street, and the stone-throwing resumes. Enemies are now friends, friends are now enemies, and life and the invigorating drama of being engaged in a fine (only rarely fatal), civic dialogue resumes.

Cambrians can be the most generous, loving people there can be. When someone in the community is in need, there are volunteers lined up around the block to help at fundraisers attended by other community members also lined up around the block to take part. Many are in both lines.

Cambrians deserve a good newspaper. They use it, they consume it, they gobble it up. They recognize information is the protein needed to fuel and build a community. The newspaper is part, a big part, of that. Cambria should know Tribune and Cambrian Publisher Bruce Ray and Executive Editor Sandra Duerr are committed to continuing The Cambrian’s fine journalistic tradition.

It’s been my privilege, honor, responsibility and joy to take part in that. Now, though I wasn’t actively looking elsewhere, a situation has presented itself that I have to take advantage of, as it combines personal and professional opportunities exciting enough to make it an offer I can’t refuse. So, starting next week, I’ll be editing the Ashland Daily Tidings, just over the border into southern Oregon.

Leaving here makes me sad and there’s a lot I’ll miss, especially the beaches.

Like the people, they have character, texture. Like a good photo, they tell a story. Rocks, pebbles, sand. Sun, fog. Calm seas with small curling waves at The Cove. Pounding waves chomping away at Moonstone Beach bluffs, tumbling clay cliffs into a ruddy sea.

There’s light and dark, quiet and noise, the clamor of seagulls and bark of seal lions.

I’ll miss the forest paths with their carpet of pine needles, a finer tapestry than any person could ever weave. Mushrooms after rain (remember rain?). Birds a flitter and atwitter. Critters rustling through the fallen branches and detritus that make habitats happy and firefighters nervous.

I’ll miss the many friends I’ve made here. They’re kind, giving, creative, funny, loyal. I’ll miss the people I’ve worked with, chief among them Kathe Tanner, the stalwart, enterprising, Cambrian reporter for a couple decades now (and columnist for a decade more). The town is lucky to have someone who loves it so much, knows it so well and can write as well as she.

So, what exactly does an editor do, anyway? Here are a few thoughts after putting out about 720 editions of The Cambrian (and several hundred more as editor of The Santa Ynez Valley News and, for that matter, The Pirate Log, my high school paper):

An editor is a chef and a butcher, picking the best ingredients, cutting off the fat, coming up with a combination of courses (appetizer, entrée, dessert; briefs, news, entertainment) to make for the reader an edible meal with no inedibles on the plate. It’s much easier on the consumer than foraging their own daily meals or daily information package. Trust me on this.

An editor is a ringmaster, presenting the varied skills of expert performers in several rings to the wonderment and elucidation of the audience.

An editor is a bricklayer, stonemason, carpenter — stacking, carving, joining the elements of a structure, a publication, an informational entity, he or she hopes stands up to the elements, to scrutiny.

An editor is a gardener, pulling out the weedy words, planting ideas, nurturing stories, combining elements to create an environment he or she hopes proves hospitable and nurturing to those who pass through.

An editor is an honest broker in the information marketplace, finding and delivering facts without fear or favor of friend or foe. Period.

Finally, the obligatory Lincoln and Twain quotes.

“You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time,” said Abraham Lincoln. He was a politician, not an editor, but dittos to that. It’s fine. How would any progress ever be made if everyone was always happy? It’s a no-brainer, as in a “Brave New World,” soma-induced state. We want the fray, the spray, the dialogue, the argument. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and a community conversation is the best decision-making process.

Mark Twain wrote, “Ever since I survived my week as editor, I have found at least one pleasure in any newspaper that comes to my hand; it is in admiring the long columns of editorial, and wondering to myself how in the mischief he did it!”

And he also wrote: “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”

Yes, editing is a lot of work, terrifying most of the time, exhilarating from time to time but, on the whole, I thank God he made me an editor — and let me spend so many wonderful years in Cambria. Thank you, readers, for your many kindnesses and for always holding me accountable; both are essential. It takes two wings to fly.

Bon voyage, au revoir, vaya con Dios, happy trails, fare thee well.

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Follow Bert Etling on Twitter at @betling.

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