published Sunday, May 5th, 2013

Wearing a new hat calls for new attitude

  • photo
    Chattanooga Times Free Press reporter Pam Sohn will replace Harry Austin as the Times-side editorial page editor.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

In reporting for more than three decades, I could probably count on my fingers the times I've read the editorial pages of the three newspapers where I've worked.

That was by design.

It was not because I didn't like what I read there.

I didn't read editorials because as a reporter and sometimes news editor, I worked steadily to divorce opinion from fact, commentary from news writing and attitude from news gathering.

If you think that's easy, try confining just one lunch conversation to only the facts you know, not any suppositions or titillating musings or even tantalizing bets.

Swearing off editorial pages had another advantage -- one that I often used in introducing myself as a reporter. Many times the person I had come to interview would say something like: "Well, I know what your slant is going to be, because I read your editorial page."

I could truthfully retort: "Well, that's nice, because I don't know yet what my take will be from this chat. You see, I don't read the editorial page. I'm a news writer."

Through those years, I've covered everything from crime to weather, education to health, politics to the environment.

I've written about police officers who abused their power and detectives who saved lives with honest and dedicated work. I've written about preachers who abused children and a Samaritan who took a disabled homeless woman off the streets while she fought a policy-bound social services system to find the woman a home.

I've reported on trainers who abused horses, about a zoo that scrambled through a string of animal deaths, and about neighbors who came together to pick up the pieces of tornado-ripped communities.

I've probed TVA ash spills and nuclear plant close calls, and I've chronicled Chattanooga's fight to clean its air and regain jobs lost along the way.

In all that time, until this year, I never once wrote an editorial. Instead, I did what most newspaper reporters do: I let many voices in a story offer far more than just one or two thoughts on the subject.

So, after decades of interviewing all over Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama, why am I flying blind into a brave new world of opinion-on-demand?

Here's the short answer. I'm freeing myself to bring you the viewpoint that reporters cannot -- simply because of the ethics that bind them. That also means I'm freeing myself to be able to offer an insight, to declare a feeling, to belong to something, to take a stand. Can you feel my chill bumps?

Let me tell you a little about who I am, and what I hope to bring to the Times editorial page.

I'm a woman, a wife, a mother. I'm a native Chattanoogan who happily moved away to live near Seattle, Wash., then Charleston, S.C., then the south of Spain, then Anniston, Ala. Eventually, after about 16 years away, I realized there simply is no place like this gorgeous home ringed by mountains with a river running through it.

I'm a workaholic, a gardener and a history lover with a huge extended family that has roots in at least five very different ethnic cultures. I'm the daughter of foundryman and a first-class homemaker.

I'm a child of Hamilton County public schools. You could say the village here in the Chattanooga area raised me.

I have a "Times pedigree" in the lingo of the Chattanooga Times Free Press merger. I worked more than a decade for Ruth Holmberg, who I deeply admire. And I owe Clay Bennett and Harry Austin a deep thank you for their support.

I'm a wanna-be musician and a pretty bad piano player in a family of many wonderful musicians.

I go to church in the orchard and, like Emily Dickinson, I enjoy the Bobolink for a chorister. My dogs and cat offer extra Amens.

And I'm just about as liberal as they come, though I have been known to vote on three sides of political tickets through the years -- and not just to disable one politician or another.

I'm pro-choice as well as a lover of life and children. I'm a recycling fanatic. I drive a hybrid. I carry spiders outside.

I have no tolerance for racism or classism. Period. And I have even less tolerance for discrimination against people with disabilities.

I don't like pollution, but I sure do like to wrap my food in plastic, and I love to be able to flip on my light switch and crank up the thermostat.

What I am is a product of Chattanooga with well-traveled flavoring, and what I hope to bring to this page is real-people reasoning for a city and age that needs an occasional push toward a broader view.

In my view, [ooh, listen -- I can have a view!] one of the best things about this newspaper is that it has two editorial pages. As a reporter, that gave me another advantage to the "slant" question. Which slant? And as a reader, it gives you two reasoned, analytical views on news of the day.

That said, you can count on me to do my best to swat Drew Johnson into line from time to time.

about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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AndrewLohr said...

Since you have no tolerance for racism or classism, and blacks and poor people live shorter lives on average than whites and white collars, tomorrow you will denounce Social Security as racist and classist, since its one-size-fits all nature gives richer whites longer better-paid retirements. Right? Public education faces similar criticism: so use vouchers to give poor people, as well as rich people, choice of education for their children, and choice of retirement.

Observe that the business sector fills many niches: Ford people, GM people, Toyota people, VW people, and even the radical Hyundai extremists, can get what they want at the same time. But the tax-paid sector makes for winners and losers. So shrink the tax sector and enlarge the business sector. The business sector also offers instant accountability: if I don't like McDonalds, I go with my money to Burger King the next day, not the next election.

Welcome. May you do better than expected.

May 5, 2013 at 12:41 a.m.
librul said...

Welcome,Pam. The right wing has a minefield all laid out for you, as you can see. The bar for tolerance is set very high and the complexity of the plethora of issues you will be called upon to analyze may seem daunting, but those of us who have relied upon your great reporting through the years know you are up to the task.

May 5, 2013 at 1:06 a.m.
aae1049 said...

Pam, you are a rock star investigative journalist, that is highly respected by regulatory agencies throughout the state.

TFP did something correct for a change and hired you to fill Harry Austin's shoes. That will not be a problem for you. We are all so excited for you. Professionally, you have grown to amazing levels, your last big investigative piece "Saving Mary" brought me to tears. I think you are about the right thing, not right or left.

Best Wishes. The TFP is lucky to have you!!!!

May 5, 2013 at 8:41 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Good comment, aae.

May 5, 2013 at 8:50 a.m.
jjmez said...

You'll have to watch your back, Ms. Sohn. When an admittedly vicious, vindictive staunch conservative praise you, it's because they have plans to control you. When they realize they can't control you, they'll pull some dirty file out they've been saving and you'll become the main course of their meal.

May 5, 2013 at 10:06 a.m.
gjuster said...

While my world view is most likely very different from yours, welcome to the editorial page, I look forward to reading your opinions. I expect we will disagree some of the time, and agree on others.

May 5, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

Pam Sohn, I like what you said here: "I go to church in the orchard and, like Emily Dickinson, I enjoy the Bobolink for a chorister. My dogs and cat offer extra Amens." Beautifully put. But unless you insert Jesus into your church in the orchard and proclaim that he is the one and only way, you might as well prepare yourself for being branded as one of those cursed secular humanists and brace yourself for the onslaught of scriptural quotes that the local Bible thumpers will no doubt fling at you. But I'm sure you're fully aware of the hot cauldron of opinionated stew you're stepping into.

Welcome! I look forward to reading your views on politics and current events on both the local and global scale.

May 5, 2013 at 5:40 p.m.
lkeithlu said...

Flagged yet again, JR. What would your mother think?

May 5, 2013 at 8:52 p.m.
magenta said...

Ike, are you even sure lil JR even has a mother? Remember that old movie The Bad Seed? Where that cute little girl went around murdering all her playmates? Reminds me of lil JR.

May 5, 2013 at 8:59 p.m.
aae1049 said...

jjmez I have known Pam since that early 90's when we crossed paths professionally, in the regulatory world and we all respected her. I have lots of liberal and conservative friends. You should limit not yourself to just right of left you cannot lean with just one perspective.

dirty file how funny, watch group posts everything, nothing is held back.

Yes, lots of conservatives like Pam. Are you suggesting we cannot>?

May 5, 2013 at 10:18 p.m.
aae1049 said...

jjmez your should not limit yourself to right or left, consider all perspectives.

May 5, 2013 at 10:39 p.m.
jjmez said...

My friendships are not limited. They are genuine, unlike others who collect friendships with strings attached. I have true friends from all walks of life, many nationalities, religions, non-religions alike. There's no left or right, conservative or liberal where we stand. There are only the the matters of right verses wrong, having character, integrity and scruples. Something these individuals now trying to play the nice will always lack.

I know Pam Sohn. Have known her for decades. A very fine and upstanding lady. A lady with integrity, scruples, compassion and character. Things you lack. That's why it's odd that someone of your spineless nature would attempt to play the nicey with her. You're not to be trusted. I'm sure she's already aware of that.

May 6, 2013 at 8:54 a.m.
magenta said...

Surely, Ms Sohn is aware, the same individuals now slithering up to her are the ones who have been instrumental in instigating, polarizing and dividing the city. They're attempts to switch gears and play innocent are well noted by many.

May 6, 2013 at 10:13 a.m.
lkeithlu said...

Knock yourself out JR. Just more evidence for the TFP of your insanity.

May 6, 2013 at 10:09 p.m.
aae1049 said...

magneta, "dividing the city" oh you mean replacing all the city council members and outing pervasive bid corruption. Last time I checked the voters got rid of the inept council members. As for corruption, You can thank a network of watch groups for that.

Ms. Sohn has quoted me in her prior work, so yes I consider her a professional friend. So, grow up. I am happy to see our friend since the early 90's get promoted, and that is really none of your business Nickelodeon Liberal.

Have a great day, the sun is shinning. Thinking you may need more sunlight for your spirit.

May 7, 2013 at 8:37 a.m.
timbo said...

Ho...hum..... Don't have much of a standard to meet. Harry Austin was horrible. Isn't it wonderful when people see new person in a new job and hope a new day is dawning. Well, some of us have to be realistic.

A lot of people thought the same thing when Obama started his presidency. Let's hope you don't turn out as bad as he did.

May 7, 2013 at 7:19 p.m.
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