A Journalist Retires
Today my old boss Keven Anne Willey retires from journalism, and leaves her post as editorial page editor of the Dallas Morning News. Here is her final column.
I’ll be personal here. This is a sad day for me. Well, “sad” isn’t the word; I’m really happy for Keven. She’s married to a terrific guy, Georges, who is a professional chef (oh, the meals I’ve had at their house). They’re going to be traveling the country together, towing their little travel trailer. Having spent six or seven years working for her, I well know how hard her job is. Keven is one of the hardest-working journalists I’ve ever known, and without question the most public-spirited. She has earned this retirement.
When I think about working for Keven, what comes top to mind is her incredible professionalism — and I’m not talking about the Pulitzer Prize her team won in 2010. She hired me from National Review in 2003 to be an editorial writer at the News. I later added a column to my responsibilities, and, under Keven’s leadership, was the founding editor of Points, the Sunday commentary section. I was not an easy employee to supervise. I had a habit of making certain people angry — especially the local Muslim community. Islamic extremism was a real thing in north Texas — the News had reported extensively on the Holy Land Foundation before I got there — and I kept turning up solid information on the radical ideology taught by local Muslim leaders. They were very, very unhappy about it, and raised hell with Keven for years.
Keven was scrupulously fair and diligent. She questioned me at length to make sure that I had my facts and my logic down pat. When I demonstrated that yes, I had done my homework, she stood by me and never wavered. She also listened at length to my critics, and gave them their say. But in the end, after all the facts were in, she stood by her columnist, and took the contempt. As anybody in the news business knows, that kind of thing is golden. You can’t do your job if you can’t rely on your editor to support you. I know too, though she never told me, that she had to defend me within the newspaper on a number of occasions. I was always grateful for that, and always will be.
It is also the case, I confess, that I gave Keven grief that I ought not to have done. I am really good at coming up with ideas, but terrible with execution. You can count on me to be A-number-1 at putting together an interesting editorial line-up in the Sunday commentary section. You cannot count on me to do the detailed managerial work necessary to keep things running. Keven put up with my struggles in that area for longer than she had to, trying to help me get better at it. And when it was clear that I just was not cut out for management, she kindly let me return to writing with no hard feelings. I had failed, and felt ashamed, not least because it was Keven who gave me the chance to prove myself, and I had not justified her faith in me. I was still proud of the editorial side of the work I did, but I bombed out as a manager. She was kind and patient through it all.
We had our disagreements over the years I worked for her — it would have been weird not to have, especially given that she’s more liberal than I am — but honestly, I don’t remember those. Again, what stands out is how stoutly she defended me even when she disagreed with me, because that’s what professional journalists do. What I remember today is the joy of working for someone I not only respected and admired, but genuinely liked. You don’t get to do that often in a lifetime; I got to do it for almost seven years. And the only regret I ever have had about my career was, in retrospect, having left my position working for Keven at the News.
This week I had a conversation with a journalist friend who works for a tyrannical boss — a boss who respected in the industry, but who is a rotten person who treats employees like dirt. I thought of that conversation last night when I read Keven’s farewell column. When that bad boss retires, everyone who had the misfortune to work for him will be glad to see the back of him, and would like to contribute a boot in his backside. I haven’t been back to the News since I left at the end of 2009. There has been significant staff turnover, but I am confident that everyone who works for Keven will be sorry to see her leave, because she was not only great, she was also good.