A new adventure

Michael Raffety

Feb. 23, 2015

This is my last column. Today is also my last day as editor of the Mountain Democrat. I am retiring. By the time you read this column I will have already left the building, so any calls will not be returned.

I started my newspaper career late in life. I served four years in the Navy, then spent a year in Georgia as an Olan Mills photographer. I moved to San Francisco and worked repairing vacuums before starting college. City College of San Francisco had a rule that first-time students could only take one class the first semester. I took astronomy. I found nuclear theory, which powers the sun, was pretty similar to electronic theory the Navy taught me. But it was a later course in the English Department on Greek Tragedy that inspired me to major in Classic at San Francisco State University.

There I learned enough Greek and Latin to do readings in the Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphosis. My favorite class was the semester I took in Sanskrit.

I wasn’t going to make a living writing Sanskrit, so I worked for the student papers. SF State at the time had two weeklies, one run by the Journalism Department and one run by the Student Union. I became photo editor of both in succession as well as managing editor of the department’s feature magazine.

At the same time I became involved in an all-photo publication called the San Francisco News. It was mentioned in the 1976 Time Life Photography Annual. After surviving 12 pot-smoking co-editors until it was whittled down to myself and two good, clear-headed friends who could go out with me and sell enough ads to pay for the printing cost, then it became a success with the contribution from some friends at Associated Press and United Press International. It was a thrilling experience. I became very close to becoming a magazine entrepreneur, analyzing the potential for Bay Area music magazines among others.

It took me five years to graduate with a bachelor’s degree — I took a year off to drive cab. Later, while working full-time at the Mountain Democrat, I completed a second bachelor’s degree in art at Sac State in two years and a master’s degree in art in a year and a half. The master’s prolonged my part-time job as a college teacher, a position I held for 23 years.

The Mountain Democrat was my third job in the newspaper business. It is now my last job in the newspaper business. Three things have kept me here as long as I have. No. 1, I married a wonderful woman who had her own business here. No. 2, we built a house and love everything about our floor plan and location.

No. 3, it has been a fun job. I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. I’ve worked for three different publishers and liked every one of them. I still run into my first publisher, Bob Bray, from time to time. I’ve also worked for two general managers. I can’t remember how many ad managers I’ve worked with. I remember the first one, Ron Bailey, an Englishman with a great, upbeat personality. The last one, Ian Balentine, has been a real prince. I’ve also still seen the editor who hired me, appointing me the first person at the Mountain Democrat to hold the title of city editor. Editor Ursula Smith had a remarkably similar background as mine. We both began as photographers, she in New York. We are both Berliners who are naturalized citizens. I thank her for recommending me as editor when she retired.

I was pleased to become editor when I was still in my 30s. I was 39 when it was announced in the paper. Three weeks after I turned 40.

Since that time, Oct. 6, 1986, I have written 160 columns and 2,598 editorials. That doesn’t count the one editorial I wrote as city editor, which won an award. In all, I have won 55 local, state and national awards.

But, because of the three reasons above, my longevity here is what I’ll be remembered for in later years. I have been editor of the Mountain Democrat longer than anyone in the 164 years since the founding of this paper in Coloma as the El Dorado News. I’ve been editor for 28 years and five months.

I’ve been with the Mountain Democrat 36 years and five months. That is not a record. The record is held by Bine Ingham, who started working for the Mountain Democrat as a teenager riding her horse in from Coloma. She worked for the Democrat 42 years, serving at various times as business manager, co-editor, co-publisher. She and her co-publisher, Mollie Carpenter, were a popular pair in town, singing at weddings and funerals.

Joan Wright in our bookkeeping office started in 1976 at age 16. She is on track to exceed Bine Ingham’s longevity record.

Interestingly, I have worked in four out of the seven locations for the Mountain Democrat and El Dorado News.

The history of this paper has fascinated me. Now, as I retire I am also history, so to speak. I thank the community of Placerville and El Dorado County for their support.

In reviewing the thousands of editorials I’ve written, two have particularly stood out for me. One was “The next CAO,” advice to the board, which I repeated and embellished three different times since the supervisors have not done all that well at choosing wisely. The other one that stood out for me was “The El Dorado County lifestyle.”

I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the 1991 version of that editorial.

“The detailed meaning of the El Dorado County lifestyle changes each year, each decade, as people move into the county. Each person’s belief about this lifestyle is wedded to what the county was like when they moved here. The more things change the more people resent the change … The realities of the El Dorado County lifestyle are changing because of all the people moving here for the lifestyle.

“It’s time to turn our eyes toward the 21st century and create a new meaning to the El Dorado County lifestyle. Preservation is a reactionary, defensive notion. We should be creating new benefits in return for the high real estate prices and costly government fees we are saddled with.”

And finally, I leave you with this excerpt from an editorial I wrote on free speech:

“That is our sacred obligation to preserve this great American democracy one day at a time “

Again, thanks to the publishers and the reading public who have supported me all these years. Farewell.


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