Irby retires from journalism after 40-year career

2011-08-25T23:00:00Z Irby retires from journalism after 40-year careerBy JENNY MICHAEL, Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
August 25, 2011 11:00 pm  • 

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

Copyright 2016 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(31) Comments

  1. Bill G-A-R-R
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    Bill G-A-R-R - August 29, 2011 1:29 pm
    Artist1says..."Everyone is entitled to their opinion"

    NOT at a John Orby run tribune. If you were to have written a letter to this right-wing rag criticizing any 2008 candidate. It would not have seen the light of day. If you were to have written a scathing hate filled rant that accused our nation's first black candidate of being a Muslim terrorist and the anti-Christ 3 days before the election. Rest assured under BIG John Orby your letter would have gone to print.

  2. Artist1
    Report Abuse
    Artist1 - August 29, 2011 3:56 am
    Wow Bill! You and Pathetic Justice need to "get a room" as you both sound like really angry, uptight people.

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but when it comes to cheap remarks, where is that getting anyone? Sure you vent in your own cheap way, but does your hostile quip put either of you further ahead in life and in which direction?

    Maybe you can help me out and tell me exactly why each of you are so upset with Mr. Irby? Did he do something to you? Or did he just voice/print his opinion that you both happen to disagree with? If the latter is the case then you need to get rid of your ego's because freedom of speech is still alive and well in the Constitution.

    It's funny posters like G-A-R-R and Poetic_Justice feel the need to use symbols or pictures of something or someone America holds so dear, yet their posts are full of sarcasm and offer no solution to the problem they think there is.
  3. Poetic_Justice
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    Poetic_Justice - August 28, 2011 10:30 pm
    ND Observer said: "Thank you for what you have done for our community, John."

    Yeah, thanks for faithfully parroting back the GOP's talking points.

    Who can ever forget your courageous endorsement of the Iraq War! Powerful stuff. And it's still relevant . . . our troops are still there.

    Thanks for your stalwart protection of mega-corporations and the super-rich.

    I mean, why should the top 2% of earners pay any tax? Let them go ahead and trickle down on the rest of us working saps.

    Most of all Mr. Orby, thanks for the quality writing! Over the years you've penned some real gems. I have saved a few of them in a special file on my PC!
  4. Artist1
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    Artist1 - August 28, 2011 10:28 pm
    Bill G-A-R-R said: "Fatee, Fatee, Fat Fat"

    W-O-W! Bill! What grade are you in? Are you the class bully with no "class"! Really what a tacky, tasteless post and you even have the b---s to USE our American flag as your photo insert! I think they are making a remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory if you are interested in the part of the spoiled rotten fat girl!

    I don't know Mr. Irby, but G-A-R-R you sound like the neighborhood bully that still lives at home with mommy and daddy. Nana Nana Boo Boo...fatty! Lol! Wow grow up!
  5. Report Abuse
    - August 28, 2011 8:15 pm
    The hour is late, and few people are still reading this post. But it is clear John Irby is leaving a legacy of friends and detractors, as well as relatives and former classmates who are following him in his career as he approaches retirement.

    Thank you for what you have done for our community, John. You will now be free to express yourself, and I hope you take advantage of the opportunity to do so. You are still young, and you have so much to offer.
  6. wit'send
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    wit'send - August 27, 2011 8:04 pm
    Well John, congrats on your retirement. After reading all of the above comments, I guess I really never new you after these 50 years or so. I always thought you were a liberal loving democrat and now I find out you're a closet tea bagger. Who knew - evidently not me, your right-wing republican, brother-in-law. Come on in from the dark side to the enlighten side of the family. Your sister will be proud.
  7. Report Abuse
    - August 26, 2011 9:08 pm
    It is wrong to blame John Irby for what is wrong with journalism today, especially in Bismarck. The first amendment is supposed to protect journalists so they can be free to speak their minds, and in a perfect world that would be the case.

    However, newspapers are part of the private sector. Journalists have bosses, read publishers, who are employed to make money for investors. Investors want profits. That translates into catering to advertisers. There goes the first amendment rights of journalists.

    John Irby's predecessor, Tim Fought, took on the Bismarck medical community. Guess what happened? Do you have any idea how much the medical community spends on advertising? No editor can survive, and Tim Fought did not.

    We just have to accept that John Irby's successor will be another corporate tool to serve the publisher's demands to keep advertisers happy. We will never have honest journalistic inquiries into the ethics of our medical community spending our health care dollars on advertising. We will never see anything critical of MDU, big oil, or the coal industry. So please do not blame the next editor for being a right wing tool. That is a requisite for the job.
  8. Bill G-A-R-R
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    Bill G-A-R-R - August 26, 2011 9:05 pm
    C Dog.... Perhaps you are forgetting it was our Dear John Irby that green lighted any and all anti-Obama letters to the editor during the 2008 Presidential campaign. The more outlandish and outrageous the lies, the quicker he printed them. But...when It came to Palin/McCain no negative letters saw the light of day.

    "Grudge-holding liberals"?... count me in!

    Good Riddance
  9. C Dog
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    C Dog - August 26, 2011 7:49 pm
    The left is sure showing their true yellow-belly colors here, but not even having the maturity to wish somebody an enjoyable retirement.

    Once again these child-like grudge-holding liberals have met our low expectations.

    Ironically they are giving Mr Irby a great retirement gift, by reminding him just how much better his life will be without these whiners.
    Report Abuse
    BULLOCK - August 26, 2011 6:58 pm
    Irby is a disgrace to journalism. He was a water boy for the right wing hate party. He will not be missed by me.
  11. Bill G-A-R-R
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    Bill G-A-R-R - August 26, 2011 3:11 pm
    I've had 2 unpleasant face to face meetings with John Irby. I'm surprised he's not moving on to FOX news.

    Good Riddance!!!!!
  12. Poetic_Justice
    Report Abuse
    Poetic_Justice - August 26, 2011 12:31 pm
    aceinthehole said: "Democrats make me laugh so darn hard. Poor me Poor me..... can I have something for free???"

    This acehole Tea Party BS is brought to you by one of the nation's top welfare states.

    Get your hand out of the public trough North Dakota. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and get off the public dole.
  13. C Dog
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    C Dog - August 26, 2011 11:52 am
    Great job John! Especially in a job where if someone isn't mad at you, it's only because, well, oh never mind. In your job there IS always somebody mad at you, no matter what you do or say.

    Thank you and best of luck.
  14. sammyhain
    Report Abuse
    sammyhain - August 26, 2011 11:46 am
    aceinthehole said: "Have always had the opinion that the Trib was a Dem Rag... like all of the Lee Enterprise papers are. What the heck are all of you talking about... The trib hates republicans. Democrats make me laugh so darn hard. Poor me Poor me..... can I have something for free??? "

    That's why the Tribune endorses the republican candidate during every election.

  15. Poetic_Justice
    Report Abuse
    Poetic_Justice - August 26, 2011 11:18 am
    Schlick said: "Very classy, Bill.Good luck John. Hope you have a wonderful retirement."

    Why is it that these oh-so "conservative" Republicans are always extremely liberal with food? They sure don't look like people who love austerity and bare bones.
  16. aceinthehole
    Report Abuse
    aceinthehole - August 26, 2011 10:39 am
    Have always had the opinion that the Trib was a Dem Rag... like all of the Lee Enterprise papers are. What the heck are all of you talking about... The trib hates republicans. Democrats make me laugh so darn hard. Poor me Poor me..... can I have something for free???
  17. bigtec9
    Report Abuse
    bigtec9 - August 26, 2011 10:14 am
    John Irby,you have definitely come a long way's from Bell Gardens high school.Played baseball on the BGHS team with you for 2 years,if I remember right I used to irritate you quite a bit,lol,imagine running into a former teammate in N.D.. Dave Boedicker class of '68
  18. Hobson'sChoice
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    Hobson'sChoice - August 26, 2011 8:55 am
    The more things change, the more they will stay the same.
  19. ing1947
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    ing1947 - August 26, 2011 8:53 am
    Good luck John. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and columns. Wish you the best.
  20. docholliday1874
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    docholliday1874 - August 26, 2011 8:35 am
    His reserved for cat-ho-lics/christians/communists/right-wing sheeple like John Irby. The days of right-wing rags like the Tribune are numbered. People are fed up with sheeple who avoid taxes at the expense of the working class. The worst tax dodgers are religions! "God, The Father Almighty. Amen."
  21. wgwgwg
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    wgwgwg - August 26, 2011 8:33 am
    (Wonder if this will get pulled???). I don't know Mr. Irby and some of his editorials made sense, others not, but I didn't get a good impression a few weeks back when the comments section was pulled on Monica Hannan's response concerning the supposed limited access of the newspaper to the Kenner funeral and to Apple Creek CC during the drownings. The early comments were taking Hannan and KFYR-TV's side and I got the impression he, or someone in power at the paper, couldn't stand the heat because they had screwed up.
  22. Halatbis
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    Halatbis - August 26, 2011 8:23 am
    Good fortune to you Mr. Irby in your new ventures! Thank you for your contributions to the people of North Dakota and the central part of our State in particular. Best of luck!
  23. docholliday1874
    Report Abuse
    docholliday1874 - August 26, 2011 8:19 am
    As soon as I replied to the article about kindergarden, right-wing Irby pulled the article! The man is so terrified of the truth he can't risk being exposed by thinking people! Here's a neat article that expose sheeple like Irby, entitled "Red States Are Welfare Queens." It's a must-read article for all sheeple. "God, The Father Almighty. Amen."
  24. Lord Kadizzle
    Report Abuse
    Lord Kadizzle - August 26, 2011 7:52 am
    A newspaper that reports all things only from one perspective is a disgrace to journalism. The Bismarck Tribune under Irby never deviated from the Republican Talking points. Never, has the Tribune even considered the possibility of taxing the rich. Never, has the Tribune come up with a positive suggestion for improving health care for Americans. In every case the Tribune has been 100% faithful to the Republican Party. The total lack of research is one of the most amazing aspects of this paper. Rather than do research the editors will listen to Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and try to mimic their propaganda techniques. This type of so called journalism is a disgrace and insult to real journalist.
  25. Lord Kadizzle
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    Lord Kadizzle - August 26, 2011 7:27 am
    Irby was faithful to Rush Limbaugh, The Republican Party, Fox News, and the Tea Party. Even with so much evidence to the contrary you have to give Irby credit for following the dictates of the right wing that has brought our country to it's knees. The Tribune will find another soldier that follows orders without question. The era of corporate news delivered by Ruport Murdock is now underway. Newspapers are now just propaganda organs of the right wing. The common man has little chance. You can count on the Bismarck Fox Tribune to continue to endorse candidates like Sara Palin. The biggest disgrace under the Irby regime.
  26. docholliday1874
    Report Abuse
    docholliday1874 - August 26, 2011 6:15 am
    Hoprfully, the Tribune will now cease being a cat-ho-lic/christian/communist/right-wing rag. If not, then Bismarck-Mandan need a newspaper that's not a religious-political puppet. "God, The Father Almighty. Amen."
  27. howaboutafresca
    Report Abuse
    howaboutafresca - August 26, 2011 2:27 am
    Is the haze the past couple days from the Montana fires?
  28. Report Abuse
    - August 25, 2011 10:45 pm
    We are going to miss John Irby at the Tribune, and it is good news he is going to stay in Bismarck. After all the places he has lived, it is a real honor to see he has chosen to remain here.

    It will not be long and there will be a new mystery contributor to these pages. What do you think John will call himself? And do you think he is really as right-wing as his editorial page has been? He will at least be free from the corporate advertising pressure every editor has to feel beholden to.

    Welcome to the world of retirement, John. All the best to you in the future.
  29. katman
    Report Abuse
    katman - August 25, 2011 9:33 pm
    Thank you for your leadership and high ethical standards. I am glad you are staying in Bismarck.
  30. JimJim
    Report Abuse
    JimJim - August 25, 2011 7:55 pm
    Good luck Mr. Irby. You will be missed. I'm looking forward to you participating in the larger Bismarck community. The article did not mention Rebecca Beitsch's pending departure. She has demonstrated herself a crack reporter, with reporting skills above the norm. The Bismarck Tribune was lucky to have both her and you.
  31. RockNDBakken
    Report Abuse
    RockNDBakken - August 25, 2011 7:15 pm
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