Sarah Liebowitz was nervous. In the smallish newsroom of the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire in June, a new reporter was about to take his seat at the desk next to hers. State house reporter Liebowitz, at twenty-five, would be nearly thirty-six years younger than the new guy. “I was worried that he’d hear me saying something silly on the phone, or that my messy desk would make him wish he never made the move,” she says. The new guy was Mike Pride, and “the move” was his stunning announcement a week earlier that he was going to leave the comfortable corner editor’s office that he had occupied for the past twenty-four years and spend his last twelve months before retirement toiling on the newsroom floor, as a sixty-one-year-old reporter.
Pride, who has been showered with prizes, fellowships, and other honors during a thirty-year career with the Monitor that started on the sports desk, offered a simple explanation for the switch: he got into newspapers to be a writer and somehow got off track. “I decided that if I could sell the idea to the publisher, I would have a chance to do what I always wanted to do,” Pride says.
The publisher, Geordie Wilson, was floored by Pride’s plan, but once he thought about it, decided that given Pride’s three decades of service to the Monitor, “Mike certainly had earned the opportunity to try something unconventional.” Moreover, he reasoned, putting Pride in the newsroom would accomplish three things: the overall quality of the paper’s writing would go up, the ex-editor’s ability to mentor the staff would be heightened, and the move would create “a graceful way to help us prepare for life after Mike,” in Wilson’s words. “It began to seem like the perfect gesture.”
Pride’s successor, Felice Belman, the former managing editor, had left the Monitor three times for jobs at bigger dailies, only to be lured back to Concord each time by Pride and others. She, too, was startled by her former boss’s plan, but quickly embraced it. “In his last year here,” she notes, “he’s taking on something risky and difficult. It shows our staff and our readers how seriously we take the task of news reporting and writing—even in a time of technological change and difficult budgets. Not only that, we’re getting a lot of good stories out of him!”
Indeed, Pride produced dozens of articles in his first month as a reporter. On a Monday in July, when asked what he had cooking, he rattled off six stories and “projects” he had in the works, including an ambitious oral history of World War II veterans that will coincide with Ken Burns’s upcoming PBS documentary about the war. Pride also has been doing background political reporting in preparation for the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary. And he has been filing everything from art reviews to blog
entries (he has his own Monitor blog) to his Sunday column, “At My Age,” which examines life after sixty.
Meg Heckman, who is twenty-nine and the paper’s first aging-and-elder-care reporter, attended the late-May staff meeting when Pride disclosed his plans to move into the newsroom. “Oh, that is sooooo boomer!” she blurted out, then immediately feared she might have offended him. “I meant it in a very positive way,” she insists. “As baby boomers like Mike approach retirement, they’re examining how they want to spend the rest of their lives. Few are willing to slink quietly into old age, and many, Mike included, are choosing to do something unusual and meaningful.”
As a small newspaper editor, Pride had few worlds left to conquer. In a 1999 CJR survey of more than a hundred newspaper editors, the Monitor was ranked the nation’s best small daily, and tied for twenty-fourth place among dailies of any size, which is not bad for a paper with a weekday circulation (then and now) of about 20,000 and a Sunday reach of 22,500. Pride won the National Press Foundation’s “Editor of the Year Award” in 1986 (the prize was renamed the “Benjamin Bradlee Editor of the Year Award” in 2005). He is particularly proud of the legion of Monitor alums spread around the country, many at major newspapers.
Meanwhile, in today’s Monitor newsroom, Sarah Liebowitz and her new deskmate seem to be getting along fine. It’s actually “inspiring,” she says, “to watch someone who so clearly loves the craft of journalism.”