But after two years at the Transcript and six years as editor of the Banner, I could sense it was time for something different. And, luckily for me, that job came along at the right time - at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, another of my former papers and another member of MediaNews Group and Digital First Media.
For an editor of a small town daily, three to five years is more the average in what quickly becomes a 24/7 job at a paper the size of the Banner. You do a little bit of everything and back up everyone, and then hope there are no equipment or website or production breakdowns - or no shortage of paper towels in the men's room or paper jammed in the fax machine. And meanwhile there's the usual tsunami of emails and phone calls.
Actually, I liked everything about this nonstop race more than I anticipated, having gotten into journalism because it allowed me to write and work on interesting and often important stories. The managing aspect, at its most aggravating and intense moments, elicits expletive-deleteds and/or kicks to the old gray metal desk. But it also brings a great sense of accomplishment and pride when on a Friday night you know the Banner is still hitting the streets and the Internet day after day, week after week.
A minor miracle some days, which you know if you've ever witnessed - or better participated in - this addictive process.
But last year a former Banner editor mentioned at a journalism conference that I had pretty much hit the limit for Banner editors, compared to anyone either of us could remember going back decades. I shrugged it off at the time, but also must have started thinking of new challenges on a subconscious level.
And earlier this year, I happened to read an online ad for a reporter in California or someplace that described the requirements as producing articles and photos and video, along with posting to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, and I thought: I want to be doing that. It suddenly seemed that this was where the action was in journalism today - at the street level. Of course, it wasn't the first time I'd come to that conclusion.
When I began in journalism at the Transcript, it was in many ways a golden era compared to today, with ad revenue soaring and readership of the print version - then the only version - well above 80 percent of households in our coverage area, and with more than double the current circulation and staff. But the attraction for me was the same as today - writing, taking photos and producing what now is sometimes called "content" that is both interesting and important to our readers.
I remember as an intern at that paper, knowing I had a front page story coming out, and driving home and watching the afternoon papers being dropped in bundles at the stores and knowing that my article was right there on each front page. More than anything, that feeling of possibly making a difference is what makes this job worthwhile.
As a manager, there's also a chance to make that connection with the readers - through editorials, columns, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media. But since the recession began and the need for rapid change in the industry became urgent, I think that percentage of the job I enjoy most has shrunk quite a bit. I will be able to reverse that percentage at The Eagle.
Now, it's time for another editor with fresh ideas to come to the Banner and advance a new vision for this 171-year-old newspaper and its electronic version. In fact, I believe changes underway at the Banner, and in the industry, could usher in a new golden era. I think we're due.
I know the next editor, who will be introduced to Banner readers soon, could not find a better region in which to lead a newsroom. Bennington in particular is a great place to call home. I've worked in a number of others and I know the difference. Despite the grumbling you hear sometimes, I think even the town's chronic complainers know it too.
As it evolved at the Banner, I think my own approach was as a "player's manager," so to speak, meaning not much of a harsh disciplinarian, more of an encourager, nagger and mentor to those who haven't worked at as many newspapers or in as many jobs. Sometimes I know I've erred on the lenient side, but I think allowing reporters and photographers freedom to pursue most of their own stories - sometimes exploding the mileage and expense budget accounts - usually worked out for the best. I think that's reflected in the more than three dozen journalism contest awards the paper has received, always competing as the smallest, or nearly the smallest daily entering the contest.
I've also believed that motivation in this business never comes from anywhere but within the person. You have to want to be perfect, no matter how long or difficult - or rushed - the process of covering or editing a major story. And I've known quite a few who've never grasped that simple fact, while others understood it before their first day in the newsroom.
During the past six years, the Banner has been lucky to have a number of people who could always be counted on to strive for perfection, no matter the added pressures of an industry in recession, with declining staffs, increasing competition spawned by the Internet and declining print revenue and stagnant wages.
Some of those who took home multiple awards for the Banner were Adam White, John Waller, Peter Crabtree, Austin Danforth, Mark Rondeau, Neal Goswami and columnist Telly Halkias. Others were recognized as well, again always competing against journalists from newspapers at least twice as large, and often four or five times the size of their own daily. Since the Banner staff remains strong and is now one of the most experienced the paper has had, there is no reason that run can't continue.
I don't know about anyone else, but I still have an image of journalism as less of a job than something I would do in some form whether or not I was getting paid. I know I'm not the only one in this business who feels that way. That's a good thing for the future of journalism, and for the Banner.
Jim Therrien, the Banner editor since September 2006, is leaving for a writing and part-time editing position at The Berkshire Eagle.