Opinion Columns & Blogs

July 18, 2010

Vasché: Modesto Bee editor reflects on 40 years on the job

Forty years ago this week, I walked into The Modesto Bee for the first day of what would turn out to be, to my absolute and everlasting delight, a grand adventure.

I had completed college, finished a stint at Fort Ord and just taken a trip down the matrimonial aisle. And now I was a reporter.

Being a journalist, a colleague once said, is like "having a seat on the curb as the parade of history passes by -- and getting paid to pass on what we observe to others."

And, oh, what a parade it's been -- and still is -- for me.

Much has changed since the morning of July 20, 1970, when I joined The Bee's newsroom staff.

I've changed, as evidenced by the accompanying photo from my first employee ID badge. The paper has changed, in size, content and appearance. The technology has changed, reshaping how we gather the news, capture images, design the pages and produce the paper. When and how we deliver the news has changed, and will continue to do so as people's desires and demands for information change. And the company I help lead has changed; what was a fine 20th-century newspaper company has become an industry-leading, 21st-century news and information provider.

What hasn't changed over those 40 years, however, is what The Modesto Bee is all about: public service journalism.

We are a business, to be sure. But we are a very special business, one whose financial success ultimately rests on our ability to give our communities news and information that is relevant, reliable, timely and usable.

In my early days as a reporter, I didn't fully grasp the critical role that newspapers can -- and should -- play in the lives of individuals, communities, a nation and a society.

But over these many years, I've seen again and again the positive impact that quality public service journalism can have.

If we do our job right, we'll help people make informed decisions in their daily lives and as they participate in our democracy. We'll mirror the life of our communities as we record their history day by day. We'll provide a forum for public discussion. We'll give a voice to the voiceless, comfort the afflicted and, when we have to, afflict the comfortable.

And, perhaps most important, we'll be our citizens' watchdog, monitoring public servants and government agencies, and identifying problems as well as possible solutions.

Today we -- myself and all the men and women who work at The Bee building in downtown Modesto -- are as committed to carrying out our mission as were our predecessors who produced the first Modesto Bee on July 26, 1933.

On my first day on the job, the front page included stories on:

• A call for a federal crackdown on illegal drugs
• Heavy fighting -- and casualties -- in Vietnam and Cambodia
• The drowning death of a young boy in the Tuolumne River
• A heat wave that sent the mercury to 104, with a high of 108 forecast that day
• A developer's attempt to buy water from Don Pedro Reservoir
• A new report on wasteful spending by government agencies

The next day's paper carried the first story I did as a Bee reporter -- on a series of power failures that left residents sweltering in the summer heat.

Who knows what will make headlines on the first day of my 41st year of sitting on the curb as the parade of history passes by.

Contact Vasché at mvasche@modbee.com.

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