Thirty years ago, the first Costco opened in Seattle, the Tacoma Dome was completed, and the Seahawks played their first ever playoff game in the Kingdome.
A lot has happened in the Seattle area in three decades.
“It’s a much better restaurant town than it was. When I came here you could get good salmon and good Asian food and that was about it. The Italian Spaghetti House on Lake City Way was the height of continental cuisine in Seattle,” says David Boardman, on his last day as executive editor and senior vice president of The Seattle Times.
“When you think about the number of sector-defining businesses that emerged over those last 30 years – the growth and emergence of REI, Starbucks, Amazon, Costco – it’s really quite phenomenal.”
Boardman, who has documented many of the Northwest’s changes, successes, stumbles and tragedies, is departing the newspaper to become dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University in Philadelphia.
He’s leaving a different media industry than the one he joined after graduating from Northwestern University in Chicago and spending some time working with the Peace Corps in Africa.
“Like many young men before and after me, I followed a woman to Western Washington,” he says.
After working for smaller newspapers, he landed at The Seattle Times as a reporter at the age of 26.
“We decided – we collectively, the media but more than anything the two daily newspapers – what was news. We drove the agenda,” says Boardman. “Of course, today that’s a much different dynamic. News is very much a conversation. People have direct access to documents, to sources of news. Often we learn of events and of breaking news from them.”
Boardman took the job of executive editor seven years ago, just as the newspaper industry lost a huge chunk of classified advertising revenue to Craigslist and lost readers to more immediate forms of news distribution. The Times staff, now around 200, is half the size it was during its peak years.
The most recent sign of what could be interpreted as desperation was the Times business side’s decision to buy advertisements in its own newspaper weeks before the November 2012 General Election.
The Times paid for newspaper ads on behalf of the Republican candidate for governor, Rob McKenna, and in favor of Referendum 74, a ballot measure to legalize same-sex marriage.
Executives described their decision as an experiment to demonstrate the power of newspaper advertising. McKenna lost to Governor Jay Inslee. Same-sex marriage was upheld.
Boardman wasn’t made aware of the advertising decision by Publisher Frank Blethen. Boardman opposed it along with at least 100 people in his newsroom who wrote a letter to the publisher against the ads.
Later this month, the Society of Professional Journalists will give Boardman an ethics award for the way he and his newsroom handled a controversial situation.
That low point aside, Boardman is proud of the paper’s reporting, which has “changed laws and saved lives.”
“We did an investigation of fraud in the federal Indian Housing program. That program was revised nationally directly as a result of our stories,” Boardman says.
“We did some controversial stories about some practices that many people thought were unethical at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which of course is a sacred cow and a wonderful place here. But there were some practices there that really needed examination and revision and as a direct result of our stories those were changed.”
The Times has won nine Pulitzer Prizes, including four during Boardman’s watch.
“There’s still an essential role for this collective of trained professional journalists who have the time and resources to gather information, to look at documents, to process and to sort truth from fiction,” he says.
In his next role at Temple, he’s looking forward to having a “meaningful impact” on the next generations of journalists.
He leaves the Northwest with a little advice for Seattle.
“I describe the place as polite, but not particularly friendly and that’s driven home to me when I go to other cities like Philadelphia which has this reputation as a tough, rough and tumble place, and I found the people there to be quite warm to a newcomer,” says Boardman. “I would urge everybody to loosen up a bit when they’re meeting people.”
Boardman is known for loosening up with karaoke. His repertoire includes everything from Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” He also writes parody songs.
“I think I’m second only to Dave Ross in town for doing parody songs, but mine are done in a closed environment in The Times newsroom,” he says.
The newsroom plans a roast of Boardman Monday afternoon and more than a few toasts after that.
By LINDA THOMAS