Editor's Views: Reflections on 35 years in Janesville, at Gazette
Thirty-five years ago Thursday, I came to Janesville and The Gazette thinking I'd be here five years and then on my way to a bigger city and a bigger newspaper.
It didn't work out that way, and I'm good with that. Janesville is a fine place to live and raise a family, and The Gazette is a great place to be a journalist.
I graduated from UW-Madison in December 1978, and I needed a job. I was offered a position as editor of a weekly in Columbus. The pay was $130 a week, and the owner told me I'd work 60 or 70 hours most weeks. You do the math. Still, I was willing to do whatever it took to lay a foundation for my career.
Then I ran into Gazette Managing Editor Mitch Bliss at a state editors conference. Graduating journalism students were invited to a lunch to introduce themselves to the editors. Bliss had an opening for a county government reporter, and he brought me to Janesville for an interview. One thing led to another, and he offered me the job for $170 a week. I called Columbus with my regrets.
My first day was Dec. 26, 1978. I expected to spend the day finding the bathroom and the coffee pot and filling out forms. Bliss had other ideas. A woman from rural Fort Atkinson had been shot to death during a shopping trip in Chicago. Bliss wanted to tap into my knowledge of Fort, where I was born and raised, so he turned me right around and sent me out to interview the couple's neighbors and friends on Blackhawk Island.
Off I went, 20 minutes after I walked in the door, nervous but excited at the prospect of reporting a big story on my first day. I didn't exactly nail it, but I did OK, and I had a byline at the top of the front page before I'd even found that coffee pot.
I covered county government for two years and found it fascinating. I moved to City Hall for three more years before Bliss promoted me to city editor. From there, new opportunities came along every few years to keep me engaged, challenged and rewarded in Janesville, and I eventually became editor in 1990 and a vice president for the parent company, Bliss Communications, in 2005.
Sometimes, I think about what might have happened had I followed the career path that I initially laid out. I'd love to work at a major metropolitan newspaper and match my skills against those of the best journalists in the country. The buzz of a big-city newsroom has always had an allure.
The attraction was never strong enough, though, to pull me from The Gazette. Part of the reason is that my wife, Gail, doesn't like big cities, and we both agreed that Janesville is a wonderfully livable place in ways that matter to us. It's big enough but not too big. It's close to Madison and other great cities. The schools are excellent. Gail landed a teaching job that she loved and that rewarded her in many ways.
On top of all that, I appreciated the chance that Mitch Bliss and others took by hiring me out of college, and I've grown to appreciate the special nature of this company. Privately owned newspapers have become less common, and family-owned newspapers are even more rare. This company is committed to this community and its employees in ways that publicly traded companies are not. The owner sits in a corner office, not in some faraway city, and he answers to his workers and our readers every day.
Like all newspapers, we've had our challenges, especially in recent years as the digital age has changed everything. Through it all, we've retained the resources needed to produce a quality local newspaper. I can't say the same for many chain-owned newspapers across the state and country. The Gazette is consistently named the best paper in the state in its circulation class, and it's largely because of that ongoing commitment from the people who write the checks.
Thirty-five years is a long time at one place. I got lucky. I've loved my job from Day 1 to Day 12,775. I didn't expect this kind of ride when I came to Janesville, but I couldn't have asked for more.
Scott W. Angus is editor of The Gazette and vice president of news for Bliss Communications. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter at @sangus_.