Community Columnists

FROM THE EDITOR | The time has come for me to act on other plans

Mark Sweetwood
Mark Sweetwood

Here’s the conclusion to a Knight Foundation report, “Healthy Local News & Information Ecosystems: A Diagnostic Framework,” released in early March 2021: “The future of Mahoning Matters is of critical importance for the Youngstown ecosystem as a whole.”

And I could not agree more, even though, for a while now, I knew I was counting down my days in my field — during my 39th year as a professional journalist.

Back in January, when I did my self-appraisal as part of my annual job evaluation, I planned that I would announce in August that I would retire in six months, giving the Compass Experiment central office and my local team time to grow into new roles and plot the next generation of Mahoning Matters.

Life has a funny way of laughing at our plans. If nothing else, we’ve learned that lesson far too many times in the past 18 months or so. In February, McClatchy restructured Mahoning Matters and the Compass Experiment, and I soon found myself with new bosses, new energy and new ideas.

Throughout the initial startup of Mahoning Matters, I viewed myself as the guy who would help establish this critically important news operation. But I always knew that there would come a time when MM 2.0 would emerge and I would take a backseat.

Well, that time is now. It’s time for Justin Dennis and the gang to take over. Justin will soon take over as editor, and I’ll be leaving by year’s end after helping with the transition.

I can’t let this moment pass without thanking a lot of folks: All my former bosses in this field, from the late Jerry McDowell to Neil Hopp to Bob Shaw to Mark Brown, every person on every staff I’ve ever been a part of, my parents for supporting my crazy journalism career notions in the 1970s, Google and McClatchy for putting this project together, Mandy Jenkins for hiring me, McClatchy senior editor Eric Nelson for inheriting me and then putting up with me, my wife, Mary, for tolerating life as I turned our living room into a tense newsroom, and all of you — thousands of you — who embraced Mahoning Matters and its journalistic mission.

You sent us your news. You contributed your hard-earned dollars. You cheered us when we were right and criticized us when we were wrong. Many of you cared as deeply for us and our efforts as we did.

It was a privilege of a lifetime. That’s the only way I can sum up these past two years.

As I have often said, the opportunity after The Vindicator closed — and I was there and it really, really closed before being resurrected as an edition of Ogden’s Tribune Chronicle — to work with a great team that I absolutely admired was an incredible opportunity. I still remember writing our mission: Justin, reporter Jess Hardin and I sitting in a coffee shop, staring at a blank screen and deciding what we wanted to be.

I have so much respect and, frankly, adoration for those two. Jess has moved on to an exciting reporting opportunity but really left her mark here. Justin truly has a wise, old editor’s soul and, as I’ve repeatedly told him over the years, he’s one of the most detailed and proficient journalists I’ve had the pleasure to work with in my nearly four decades. I also adore Jeremy Harper, who I knew was perfect for our team as the No. 2 editor and content manager. He does it all, from editing to social media, and has been the backbone of the operation since he joined our team. We needed his quiet calm to balance my, uhm, less-constrained nature.

And we were lucky to have Alyssa Weston to handle our weekly features. And the awesome Tom Williams joined the team in a part-time role as we expanded our reach. And while we were still reeling from the loss of Mark Eckert as the pandemic hit us in March 2020, we were so glad Thea Nixon joined us as our business operation executive.

And the cast kept expanding: Adam and Mary Beth Earnheardt, Liz Dreier, the Rev. Lewis Macklin, David Betras, Bob Yosay, Bill Lewis, Eartha Hopkins, Ellen Wagner and all the folks who have contributed to Mahoning Matters’ success.

And it’s going to continue to grow and, with your help, flourish.

Meanwhile, I am going to be around for a while longer, transitioning the team with Eric, Justin and Jeremy. You and I will still talk at times on weekday mornings in the newsletter — you are not getting rid of me that easily. But after four decades, mostly spent in the editor’s chair where the buck has always stopped at my desk, I’m ready to step away.

So what’s next? Eventually, someday, this COVID-19 mess will be over, and when it’s done, there will be much to see and to do. I do not want to be a victim of the old adage, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

To answer the “Why now?” question, it really is as simple as this: I just decided to start acting on those other plans, secure in the knowledge that the critically important mission of Mahoning Matters is in good hands.

This story was originally published December 30, 2021 9:48 AM.

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