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Looking back while moving forward

Looking back while moving forward

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Prison movies, which I enjoy, have a clear theme: It doesn't pay to be a rat. And since I've never been one to kiss and tell "all," don't expect any shocking details of newsroom behind-the-scenes angst, trial or travail over the past four-plus years, in this, my last column as editor of the Tribune.

Many of my experiences with this newspaper have been positive; some not so much. But that is no different from any other job I have held. Still, I will try to explain my decision to retire.

A Bismarck blogger asked, after the announcement of my retirement, if I would talk with him, on the record. He said he was working on a story about the rumors of why so many people were leaving the Tribune. His request seemed to drip conspiracy theory and nefarious deeds. While any such theory is incorrect, his request came days after writing this:

"If John Irby at the Bismarck Teabune or Jack Zaleski at the Fargo For'em had any integrity at all - any - they'd tell the truth about their newspapers and the slanted ‘news' they publish, and then resign (or be fired) too."

Those might have been some of the kindest words he's ever written about me or my employer.

Here's a funny question about that blogger - do you think he believes he has no agenda or political bias? Can he seriously think he has been objective and factual in his posts?

His slant is, in fact, excessive.

I responded to his inquiry by suggesting I might talk with him after my last day on the job. Then again, I might not. What are the odds?

Seriously, in my retirement, I wish him the best and I hope he takes me out of his mixed bag of media and personal character assassination attempts.

A few days later, the Tribune ran a story about my retirement and said nice things about me. Maybe the tone (I didn't read the story before it was published) was hoped, by some, to counter a few wacko comments:

"Now will the Trib return to the once-a-week publication of the TV listings?" one fan wrote.

Well, if it does, it will prove, once again, I had enormous power as editor. The wicked witch is finally dead, so folks will now get their TV guide back!

How in the world could I give up such power? Certainly I enjoy punishing people!

My legendary mind-control was proven by this comment: "Hopefully, the Tribune will now cease being a catholic/christian/

communist/right-wing rag. If not, then Bismarck-Mandan need a newspaper that's not a religious-political puppet."

That's me - Religious-Political Puppet Irby.

I have repeatedly been accused of censoring online posts. Truth be told, that responsibility falls to the online producer-editor and I was only occasionally involved in those decisions.

The biggest disgrace under my "regime," according to someone in the know, was my endorsement of Sarah Palin. The same person suggested I was faithful to Rush Limbaugh and was a disgrace to journalism.

Palin was not my candidate and I don't listen to Rush.

But isn't it interesting how well some people know me - and how some are such experts in journalism?

My own brother-in-law, from North Carolina, entered the commenting fray with this: "Well John, congrats on your retirement. After reading all of the above comments, I guess I really never knew 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 member of the tea party. Who knew - evidently not me, your right-wing Republican brother-in-law. Come on in from the dark side to the enlightened side of the family. Your sister will be proud."

Funny. He and my sister would be considered by some to be far right politically, but I still love them.

Other comments were downright hateful and won't be repeated here. But then, there were also several supportive well wishes.

Thanks for those.

One seemed to sum it up best: "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."

So, is it clear why I am retiring?

Over the years, I have developed a thick skin and defended the First Amendment and freedom of speech. The only censorship I have personally practiced with readers has been libelous statements. As editor, I have supported - and agreed with - other institutional concerns as established by greater employer powers that be.

The rules are clearly listed online and include: "Keep it clean. Avoid language that is obscene, vulgar, lewd or sexually oriented. If you can't control yourself, don't post it. Don't threaten to hurt or kill anyone. Be truthful. Don't lie about anyone or anything. Be nice. No racism, sexism or any other sort of -ism that degrades another person. Stay focused and ask questions. Keep on the story's topic."

There are no absolute First Amendment or freedom of speech protections for people making online comments. But I will never be able to convince those who disagree, so how about trying to digest this: The old days have passed. Editors are not in charge of, or responsible for, everything.

I am retiring because I am tired of being the whipping boy, by one and all. My skin has thinned. Life is too short to put up with all the noise.

It was time. I just don't want to do this anymore - and I have other options.

Those are the reasons - the real truth - about my early retirement. I have no ill-will toward anyone. Bismarck and North Dakota are great places to live, bolstered by a strong economy and robust dialog.

Wish me well in my next career. I have an interview soon to become a safety-seatbelt crash dummy.

(John Irby's last day as editor of the Tribune will be Friday, Sept. 9. Until then, he can be reached at john.irby@bismarcktribune.com or 250-8266.)

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