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|| News Item: Posted 2008-01-14

Gray Matters: Don't burn your bridges.
Jim Merithew is leaving the newspaper business, thanks to an old college friend.

By Jim Merithew, Wired News

Photo by Brad Mangin

Photo by Brad Mangin

Jim Merithew wanders the streets of San Francisco's Chinatown during one of his many going away parties after leaving the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday night, January 11, 2008.
Over the past couple of years I have attended more than my fair share of going away parties. At each one I've been able to think a million things I would rather be doing.

The issue is on my mind because last Thursday night I found myself on the hook for yet another farewell salute. This one, attended by a group of people from the Features section at the San Francisco Chronicle, happened at a trendy North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco. After a few cocktails and some greasy pizza, the conversation turned to the predicted death of the newspaper industry and the dedication of those journalists who continue to stick it out.

One of my more gregarious coworkers started what can only be characterized as a rant. He talked about his belief that newspapers are a vital part of our democracy. He talked about how we have strayed from our mission, chasing after every shiny object that comes our way. He talked about how it seemed the industry was afraid to stay the course. He talked about how we need to find out how to monetize our product on the Internet. He talked about how newspaper people were different. We have a mission he said. We love what we do. We would do it for less if we thought it would help. We would stand in the rain, snow, sleet or heat if we thought it would help the story.

He was impassioned. He was eloquent. He obviously believed in the mission of newspapers. I agreed with everything he said because I have spent much of my life praising newspaper as the last great place for documentary photography. I've told anyone who would listen that newspapers are not dying, they are just adjusting.

The weird part is that all this was said at my going away party.

That's right, I'm out. I am leaving the San Francisco Chronicle this week to become a photo editor at Wired News, the online partner of Wired magazine.

After going through a major merger, a major restructuring and finally a major series of layoffs, of which I survived, I've decided it's time to move on.

But before we go any farther, first let me make clear I'm not leaving because I believe any of the talk about newspapers going away. I'm not leaving because I think the days of doing great documentary photojournalism are over at my newspaper or any other newspaper for that matter.

I'm leaving because I couldn't say no to this opportunity. I have the chance to work with a great group of professionals at a time when they are looking to make photography a big part of their growth plan.

So I'm out.

But in the meantime, I wanted to share one important lesson I've learned while changing jobs.

Simply put, don't burn your bridges as you move through your career. You have no idea how being nice instead of naughty is going to help you in the future.

Now don't get me wrong, I have torched more bridges than I care to think about. In the early days of my career I thought I was the only one who cared about quality and integrity. I thought I had to point out every indiscretion foisted against photography. I had to be the loudest voice in the room because I thought I was the only visual person present.

My youthful enthusiasm got the better of me on an occasion or two.

If you are reading this and recognize me from those days I apologize. I am still a pain in the ass, but I have tempered my youthful enthusiasm with a touch of professionalism.

Anyway, it turns out, oddly enough, that the Culture Editor at Wired News was the Entertainment Editor of my college newspaper. That's right. More than 20 years after college someone from my past reached out and helped me land a new job.

So it is with mixed feelings that I leave the newspaper industry. I will continue to believe in the mission and will always have respect for those struggling to do great work during this difficult time. I wish all my colleagues at the Chronicle great success. And I believe there is a future.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at Wired News. Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
Merithew's member page

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