Fitting Tribute for a Giant of Journalism

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San Diego Politics & Media Mashup

Cross-posted at FlashReport

Logan Jenkins blew Neil Morgan a big fat kiss in today’s U-T San Diego and I enjoyed every word. Jenkins, a longtime columnist at the paper, starts by telling us the venerable Morgan, at 88, isn’t doing well. He then goes on to write an inspirational and moving tribute (In postwar San Diego, Neil Morgan stood taller) fitting for one of San Diego’s finest journalists.

We don’t hear as much about Morgan, a giant in his day, as we used to in San Diego. When I arrived in 2005, for a job at the Union-Tribune, Morgan’s presence was evident even though he had been fired a year earlier. Like most reporters at the paper I occasionally spent time in Morgan’s old office which was called, “The Reading Room.” It was lined with newspapers, books, magazines and comfortable leather chairs. No sign of Morgan, but he was there. Reporters who witnessed his ouster would nod to the executive editor’s office in the corner and say there simply wasn’t room for two Alpha Dogs.

2004 story in Editor & Publisher covered Morgan’s surprise dismissal. It said:

“The 80-year-old Morgan was senior columnist/associate editor of the paper since the 1992 Union-Tribune merger. Before that, he served as editor of the San Diego Tribune for 11 years, and guided it to a 1987 Pulitzer Prize. Morgan also wrote a column for many years prior to becoming editor, and was at one time syndicated by Copley News Service. He said the moderate-liberal approach his local column took in a conservative-leaning paper hadn’t changed much over the years. But Morgan thinks some members of current “upper management” may not be as tolerant of this approach as Helen Copley was when she was in charge. “The climate has changed,” he said.

Mark Sauer, a senior editor at KPBS and former U-T staffer, admired Morgan and the Tribune even though he competed with them every day as city editor at the Union.

“He was a reporter’s editor,” Sauer told me this morning. “The people who worked for him really liked him and the culture he created at that paper. They were kind of the underdog, the smaller paper — but they wore that proudly.

“He was a larger-than-life figure in there. He made it fun to go to work everyday at the paper. They fed off his spirit and his optimism. They had to be more feisty, more aggressive. They didn’t have a Sunday paper. The Union was more like the Grey Lady. The Tribune was edgier, took more chances.”

In his column, Jenkins explains that San Diego’s laid-back lifestyle bothered Morgan’s father. It’s something Morgan accepted but struggled with, too. I really enjoyed reading that because I’ve struggled to appreciate one of San Diego’s greatest charms. I was born in Detroit, raised in Metro Detroit and worked in the city before moving to San Diego. Detroit clearly has its issues but there is a sense of urgency, a sense of pride and sense of place there that I haven’t found here. If a Detroiter gives you his word, it’s golden. Here, it doesn’t always mean as much. Don’t get wrong, I love San Diego. It’s just not the utopia folks back in Detroit think it is.

Jenkins goes on to tell us, “Politically, Morgan played it down the middle, as an old-school reporter should,” so much so that some of people who worked closely with the columnist didn’t know if he was a Republican or a Democrat.

Jenkins correctly notes that journalists like Morgan don’t surface anymore. There’s a lot of reasons for that, including the 24/7 news cycle delivered on multiple platforms from countless sources. Journalism has taken a hit here and everywhere else, but there are still great journalists in San Diego doing great work. People like Craig Gustafson and Christopher Cadelago at the U-T come to mind, as well as Scott Lewis and Rob Davis at Voice of San Diego. We’re also fortunate that old-school journalists like Gene Cubison, J.W. August, Cliff Albert and Mark Sauer still serve San Diego.

Shortly after his ouster from the U-T, Morgan co-founded Voice with Buzz Woolley.

“He realized that at 80 he could not do something significant alone or forever,” Woolley tells Jenkins. “His mentoring of the young journalists at Voice of San Diego was his way of endowing San Diego.”

A young, brash start-up with Morgan’s roots, Voice quickly attracted the U-T’s attention. Most reporters at the U-T respected the new competition but some of the senior editors who clashed with Morgan felt differently. Back then, I included a line crediting Voice in a front-page story I was writing. My editor told me the paper’s editor wanted that line removed because, I was told, no one knows who Voice of San Diego is.

I never met Neil Morgan but I feel like I have, especially after reading today’s profile. Thank you, Logan!

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Tony Manolatos is a communications strategist. You can follow him on Twitter or LinkedInYou can hear Tony talk politics and media with KOGO’s LaDona Harvey every Monday at 2:35 p.m. on AM 600 and FM 95.7.
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