Goodbye, farewell and amenWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Few experiences foster sentiment like an unexpected goodbye, but as I leave Toledo Free Press — and Toledo — the past few weeks have paradoxically blessed me with great clarity.
Orson Welles once said that a movie set was the best train set a boy ever had; having contributed to the creation, ascension and maintenance of Toledo Free Press for nearly 10 years, I would contradict him and suggest a community newspaper is an even better mental laboratory, war room and playground.
When Tom Pounds contacted me in early 2005 with his idea for a weekly newspaper aimed at being a community partner, I hesitated. I was uncertain if I wanted to leave the security of my News Editor gig at The Daily Telegram in Adrian. Pounds convinced me he would provide the resources and allow me to build a newspaper from scratch, an opportunity I could not resist.
Ten years later, Pounds has never broken his promise to allow me to guide Toledo Free Press content. That does not mean we are not collaborators in strategy and business, but it does mean that if you like, love or hate what Toledo Free Press is, you like, love or hate my singular vision for what a newspaper can be in a community. Like Welles tinkering with cameras and film, I have utilized words and images to forge a publication that strives to be a good neighbor and community partner, but also a watchdog and critic. That may seem like a dichotomy, but both roles stem from love for the people and spirit of Toledo.
While I owe Pounds my gratitude for the opportunity to create this news voice — winner of five consecutive Society of Professional Journalists Best Weekly Newspaper in Ohio awards — my greater debt is to the readers who patiently watched as Toledo Free Press evolved. For more than 500 weeks, many of you met me here to read about life in and around the Glass City, then turned the pages to absorb my vision for news, arts and business coverage.
We have been particularly close on this page. You have allowed me not only to rebuke the Carty Finkbeiners, Larry Sykeses and Jon Stainbrooks of our region (although fortunately there is only one of each of those villains), but to walk with you on some intimate journeys. When Toledo Free Press launched, I was married but did not have children; we now have two amazing sons, and as I have chronicled Evan and Sean’s growing pains, you have helped me understand that no matter how personal an experience may be, it is almost always also universal.
You were also patient and encouraging as I wrote about my weight gain and loss issues. As I ballooned to more than 400 pounds and then chose a bariatric surgery that brought me back down to 200, you listened. Many of you actively cheered me on, which was tremendously motivating. Some of you embarked on similar journeys, which was even more motivating. A few of you were mystifyingly nasty about it, which I found to be the most motivating of all.
There have been some great partners who made this journey possible. Pounds, of course, and charter employees Renee Bergmooser and Pam Burson. I have also been blessed to work with some incredible journalists — Brandi Barhite, Vicki L. Kroll, Justin Kalmes, Kristen Criswell, James A. Molnar, Don Lee, Matt Zapotosky, Duane Ramsey, Jeff McGinnis and Sarah Ottney, to name just a very few among many.
I have watched with admiration and amusement as two particular people who are not trained journalists have revolutionized Toledo media — Lisa Renee Ward and Jeremy Baumhower may not have degrees in communications, but I would work with them over many of the more established media figures in our market. Ward and Baumhower represent a new age of media, and those who ignore their contributions do so at their own continued ignorance.
There have also been people who played various roles in Toledo Free Press philanthropy projects — Chris Kozak, Chrys Peterson, Ellie
McManus, Eric Slough, Tim Yenrick, Amanda Aldrich, Lauren O’Neill, Rachel Richardson, Julie Malkin, Rob Armstrong, Jim Murray, George Sarantou, Sam Melden, Will Lucas, Kelly Fritz Garrow, Kyle Grefe, Bill Kitson, Lexi Staples, Larry Meyer, Rick Cornett, Justin Moor, Jennifer Rockwood, Ken Leslie, Becca Gorman and a score of others. It is through these people that Toledo Free Press was allowed to play a role in such legacy projects as our annual CDs, Toledo Pride, Restaurant Week Toledo, Jam City, Holiday with Heart, TEDx Toledo and many other philanthropic events.
The CD projects have allowed me to become friends — or at least friendly — with some of the most talented people in Toledo. Kerry Patrick Clark, Eddie Boggs, Jeff Stewart, Kyle White, Alyson Stoner, Crystal Bowersox, Ramona Collins, Pat Dailey, Mighty Wyte, Chris Stoll and so many other amazing talents.
All of these people give because they understand the larger community needs people who give. These are people with inner lights so bright, they lead the way for those of us with far less talent and heart. I love these people for fighting for those who can’t fight, and for inspiring action over surrender.
These Toledoans are especially important to me because I have also had to battle a number of absolute creeps and cowards who seek only personal advancement at the expense of the greater community. There are corrupt elected officials, wicked and greedy leeches in the business community, incompetent pay-for-play media practitioners, Judas betrayers, car dealers who prey on economically challenged customers but don’t pay their own bills, weak-willed academics, spineless news anchors and gutter-dwelling errand boys who contribute to the attitudes that rot this great city at its core. There are people walking among us so warped by their own ambition and hypocrisy that their souls are hopelessly smothered under spider webs of lies and delusion.
I have always tried to be honest with you, so I am obligated to tell you that I have become something I have always claimed to loathe. I have long lamented that Toledoans often chose comfort over ambition. Our people cling to a substandard status quo rather than take risks today that could lead to a better tomorrow for all of us. The rejection of Mike Bell’s ambitious and progressive agenda is only the most recent example of this attitude. I am disappointed to realize that I have fallen into this behavior in my job at Toledo Free Press. I have cleared a path, and find myself circling back over it again and again rather than seeking more challenging terrain. I have chosen comfort over ambition, the sin I identify as Toledo’s greatest failing. I am startled to realize that I could coast in this job for as long as I could channel work to others and rest on the laurels of successful projects.
But choices like that lead to the corruption that has enveloped so many prominent Toledoans and inhibits Toledo’s growth and prosperity. I need to shake up my professional life so I may contribute in new and greater ways. That opportunity has arisen as a result of a major career move my wife is making. She has been offered a fantastic role in her art therapy field, one that will take our family to the Cleveland area. I am blessed to have also found an opportunity that offers new challenges and a chance to make a difference — as Director of News and Community Content for United Way of Greater Cleveland. I am excited to begin there even as I am sad to leave here.
It feels like a heart-rending breakup.
It’s not you, Toledo, it’s me.
I hope you will understand, as you have so generously understood my previous choices.
I hate to let go of your hand. I am scared to leave your company. I am going to miss you and I will ache for your friendship.
But I refuse to calcify. I refuse to allow a lowest-common-denominator attitude to define my life. I refuse to become complacent and be part of the problem.
I will always sing of you, Toledo. I will always brag about you. I will always take solace in our time together. I will always be in your debt and I will always love you.
Goodbye. Farewell. Amen.
Michael S. Miller has been Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief since its inception in January 2005.