published Friday, May 3rd, 2013

Echoes from the past shape editorial future

By Harry Austin

It's not been the custom for editorial writers to write in the first person. Our work is traditionally seen as the collective opinion of an institution that works in the interest of the community and the common good. Opinions were reached by editorial writers in adherence to the social policies we believed were most fair for all. When big things were on the table, the publisher and executive editor weighed in.

It's only recently that either editorial page in this newspaper has had just one editorial writer, and was called to upon to represent the policies of a newspaper that, consumed in a merger, no longer existed. That's been my job. But I'm shifting gears from that tradition today, my last day as editor of The Chattanooga Times editorial page. Before my retirement begins tomorrow and Pam Sohn takes charge, I'd like to recall the more recent history of The Times editorial page, and say goodbye.

I began to meet the editorial editors and writers who set the standards I've tried to follow while I was working my way through college at The Chattanooga Times. Martin Ochs, Gene Roberts, Norman Bradley, Michael Loftin and Pat Wilcox were my immediate predecessors and colleagues on this page before the merger in 1999 of The Chattanooga Times and the Chattanooga Free Press. Wes Hasden came aboard and served as associate editor on this page until last fall.

The Chattanooga Times' longtime local publisher, Ruth Holmberg, and the prior editors of this page always advocated large goals for the community. Though considered liberal, they didn't see issues through partisan lens; they were advocates of social justice and progressive policies that fairly helped all. That's been my standard.

In the march to civil rights, for example, The Times page argued vigorously for an end to school segregation, and for collaborative community partnerships in the throes of desegregation to dampen racial violence, promote inclusion, and find understanding and common ground.

The editors always argued for the protection of constitutional rights, and for support for equal rights in voting, political representation, education, and strengthened public schools. We've sought equity in myriad other ways: tax fairness, workers' rights and safe workplaces, environmental integrity and resource protection, health care, public safety and socio-economic reforms that advanced all income groups.

We've vigorously advocated downtown renaissance and redevelopment. That sounds easy now, but just a few decades ago, factories had closed, downtown was dead and frightening after office hours, and our air was rated by the EPA as the dirtiest in the nation. The path to urban and economic renewal and a higher quality of life for everyone wasn't clear to many.

In accord with many civic activists, we promoted preservation of the buildings that gave character to the city and kept its history alive. We pushed the rescue of the closed Walnut Street Bridge, slated for demolition, as the pedestrian bridge to creation of new parks and river walks. When philanthropist Jack Lupton proposed to build the Tennessee Aquarium, we countered the naysayers who lampooned both "Jack's fishtank" and the bold idea of bringing commercial life and pedestrians back to a dead downtown.

Before the Army surrendered the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant, some negative political leaders couldn't comprehend the vision of an Enterprise South industrial park, much less the notion of landing an auto plant and attendant new industry. They were proved wrong, and again so on revitalization of the Southside, downtown schools, a resuscitated foundry shell which now hosts the Chattanooga Market and festivals.

Bold, forward-looking city and neighborhood leaders, civic revivalists and generous donors and foundations nurtured all that has flowed from their collaboration and wise investments. But there yet is much to be debated, and protected, in the manner of growth that lies ahead.

I've been privileged to have a job, and a voice, in the public debates that attended such progress and the continuing community development that has been part and parcel of it. Along the way I've come to understand that our editorial pages are a public commons, akin to the debating places of our predecessors' village greens. We don't own them, really. We share them with readers and their letters, informing, affirming, learning from or challenging their views. Our work has been to put the news and civic issues in context, to give it relevance, and to expand on that by providing a place for columnists, guests, analyses and letters.

I won't miss the daily deadlines. But I do thank our readers. I will miss the share I've had in the public debate, and the loyalty of readers who look to The Times editorial page for our views, and who by doing so sustain this work. Pam Sohn will ably carry it on.

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potcat said...

I will miss you! I have mostly but not always agreed and thats ok.

I bid you goodbye and hope you have a wonderful retirement. Your knowledge capable voice should never be silenced. Find a way to serve us underlings.

I believe you are on point and better than ever, repetition is how you get good at anything, so find a way.

Now edit this post...............

May 3, 2013 at 11:14 a.m.
librul said...

Thanks for your inciteful and even-handed commentaries, Harry.

Like Potcat, I ALMOST always found agreement with your comments but, given the predictable, neo-fascist shrieking on the other page, yours has always been the only voice worth listening to.

Happy trails!

May 3, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Should have issued an apology first to hundreds of thousands around Memphis, for calling them racists.

May 3, 2013 at 2:53 p.m.
magenta said...

So this is what Mr. Austins forced resignation is all about? He called some racists racists? Then they gathered their little minions to complain? soooooooooooo typical SOUTHERN. Those types did the same thing to control and destroy dissention in another era. The Civil Rights Movement. They went out of their way to destroy families, careers and the livelihood particuarly whites who supported it.

Stick to your principles, Mr. Austin. They can try and take every material thing away, but if you're principles remain intact, they can never neither harm you nor control you.

Godspeed SIR!

May 3, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.
LaughingBoy said...

Magenta, do you have any idea of the issue that drew the racist comment from Austin?

Here's a quick recap, many around Memphis do not want to be in a combined school system with Memphis city schools. The issue is not racism, or just wanting to be separated from blacks. Several areas surrounding Memphis already have a good percentage of black residents, even higher when counting only to age 18. The issue is a bloated school system where hundreds of millions of dollars have been thrown away on practices that been shown to be failures, and statements by those in power in the city there, how "now we're in charge." It sounds like a money grab, at the very least, and at the worst, an attempt to equalize achievement by taking the higher achieving suburban areas down a notch. This should sound familiar if you keep up with the local system.

Austin, surely, knows all of this, but it's easier just to cry racism and segregation.

May 3, 2013 at 4:27 p.m.
aae1049 said...

Farewell Harry Austin, this conservative will miss your wrong perspective. I did read your work everyday. Best of luck in your new life.

May 3, 2013 at 8:44 p.m.
magenta said...

Yeah, right, laughing@Uboy. Just like they were once openly pitching a fit locally about busing inner-city students to that new school on that mountaintop?

May 3, 2013 at 8:47 p.m.
mountainlaurel said...

I’m going to miss your voice and commentaries, Harry Austin. They’ve always been one of my favorite things about the TFP and I know the same it’s true for lots of other people. . . I sure hope the fact that you’re retiring doesn’t mean that we will have to endure more David Brooks on the liberal side of the TFP editorial page. . . Anyway, I wish you the best and take care. . . P.S. - For the record, Harry, I've always agreed with your commentaries.

May 3, 2013 at 10:36 p.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Maybe now you'll have time to turn your (wrong) answers into questions? Ronald Reagan used to be a liberal Democrat.

May 4, 2013 at 12:36 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

Sorry I forgot to add that of course this is purely for the good of the community, and even of yourself. Not partisan at all. And of course I wish you personally all the best in all good and harmless lines you follow. St John Calvin, pray for him.

May 4, 2013 at 12:41 a.m.
magenta said...

See: EXTRA! EXTRA! READ ALL ABOUT IT!! Principal Fires Guards, Expands Arts and Sees Test Scores Soar

Sources: NBCNews, Demungrnd, altnt org., legal news:

"Bott completely cut the school’s security infrastructure and revitalized its art programs. Musical instruments were pulled out of locked storage and returned to classrooms. Faculty reopened dance and art studios that had been out of commission for years.

Within a year, the school already saw “significant increases in the numbers of students reading at grade level and the percent of students proficient on grade level math assessments.” And within three, Orchard Gardens completely transformed. Not only have test scores and grades improved—students are also better behaved.

“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott told NBC. “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”

Orchard Gardens’ refocus is emblematic of studies linking arts education with academic achievement. A 2012 study by the National Endowments for the Arts found that “At-risk students who have access to the arts in or out of school also tend to have better academic results, better workforce opportunities, and more civic engagement.” Chris Plunkett, a visual arts teacher at Orchard Gardens is starting to see that play out."

May 4, 2013 at 2:20 a.m.
timbo said...

Good riddance to a left wing propagandist who was always a cheerleader and apolgist for the Chattanooga power structure.

I'm just as happy as I was when Lee Anderson was shown the door. Maybe there will be a little more objectivity at the TFP.

May 5, 2013 at 11:07 a.m.
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