After a 40-year journalism career in which he's met American presidents and members of the American Nazi party and covered natural disasters and sports legends, Bismarck Tribune editor John Irby is retiring.
Irby, who will turn 62 in October, announced this week he will retire from the newspaper on Sept. 9.
"I fairly enjoyed it, overall," Irby said about his journalism career.
Tribune Publisher Brian Kroshus praised Irby's work during his 4½ years at the Tribune, saying the longtime newspaper man insisted on "unparalleled" standards for ethical journalism and making sure the community's voice was heard.
"During his tenure, John has done an outstanding job and taken our news product to a higher level," Kroshus said.
Irby's long career in media began somewhat by accident. He wanted to be a printer after taking several high school classes in the craft. Pepperdine University offered him a scholarship to run its printing press, but the school never purchased the equipment. Irby's scholarship was renewed instead as a journalism scholarship.
The new path held his interest. After he graduated in 1971, he went to the Copley editorial training program, from which he was hired as a reporter at the Alhambra, Calif., Post Advocate.
During his time in Alhambra, Irby made his first foray into management. His city editor sent him to do a story on a nude dancing establishment run by a former police chief. When he returned, the managing editor wouldn't allow such a piece, no matter how tastefully written, to run in a family newspaper. The city editor resigned over the disagreement, and Irby was named interim city editor.
Over the years, Irby's career took him to newspapers in California, Nevada, Montana, Indiana and Wisconsin. While working in Reno, Nev., he realized a dream of playing professional baseball - he signed a one-day, $1 contract to play for Reno's Class A team for a story. Though he never received his dollar, he did lay down a sacrifice bunt, committed one error and made several outs at first base.
In Great Falls, Mont., Los Angeles-native Irby received a culture shock when he saw a pole vaulter with a can of "snuff" in his back pocket, received a death threat over coverage of a high school basketball game and saw a farmer bet $6,000 in a bar over Class C basketball.
Over the years, Irby was tear-gassed while covering a riot and interviewed American Nazi party members armed with guns and snarling dogs. He once angered Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by waking him up for a phone interview, during which the basketball legend would respond to open questions with only the words "yes," "no" and "maybe." He was scolded by LPGA legend Donna Caponi for not doing his research before asking the four-time major winner whether she had won any majors.
Breaking news always has given Irby a rush. While he was editor at the Ventura County Star in 1994, his staff used laptops to write stories from their cars after an earthquake knocked out electricity. The paper was printed in San Luis Obispo, then flown back in time for delivery the next day.
Irby's longest newspaper tenure was with the Bakersfield Californian, where he was the managing editor from 1984-90. He enjoyed the satisfaction he got from working with the staff of 20 to 25 reporters.
Similarly, he enjoyed his time working with students at Washington State University, where he was an associate professor for eight years prior to coming to Bismarck. Irby maintains contact with numerous students from his time there. He wrote two books, "Kill the Editor" and "Reporting That Matters: Public Affairs Coverage," and enjoyed the freedom the position gave him academically and in terms of time.
"It was a good break for me at the time," he said.
Irby came to Bismarck in 2007. Of all his stops, Bismarck offered the weather least similar to what Irby was accustomed. But he has enjoyed the friendly people of the less-populated state.
"The last winter or two got to me a little bit," he said, with a laugh.
Kroshus said Irby engaged with the community during his time as editor and maintained and strengthened the ethics of the organization. He said a search for a replacement in the same vein as Irby will begin soon.
"It's evident that John has a passion for the news industry, having served the profession extremely well," he said.
Irby plans to stay in Bismarck, supporting his wife's career while slowing down his own. He will work part-time for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, write books and do some freelancing, manage properties he and his wife, Lisa, own, spend time with the two sons he has still at home, and travel. If the right thing comes along, he could see himself coming out of retirement. But he also can see himself enjoying the new pace.
He has no regrets over his career, other than wishing he could have played professional baseball more than that one game in Reno.
"I've always been one of those people who never looked back," Irby said.
(Reach reporter Jenny Michael at 250-8225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)