Kennedy: Moving my desk but not my heart

Kennedy: Moving my desk but not my heart

November 25th, 2012 by Mark Kennedy in Life Entertainment

Last week I cleaned out my desk in the Life department and moved to the rear of the newsroom to join the Opinion pages staff.

I traded a cubicle for an office with massive windows where the sun streams in all day and fries my bald spot. I'm thinking about taping a sunflower seed to my head to see if it sprouts.

About 13 years ago, then-executive editor of the Times Free Press Tom Griscom called me aside one day and told me he wanted me to be Features Editor. That's newspaper lingo for the person who oversees the Life sections.

I humbly and happily accepted the challenge.

For a big chunk of my career then, I've been working alongside a staff of journalists and editors responsible for these pages. Some of us have been together from the beginning of my tenure.

• Lisa Denton, my longtime assistant and friend, mixes the secret sauce for ChattanoogaNow (formerly Current). For more than a decade, she managed to quietly shield me from major quality-control embarrassments.

• Barry Courter, entertainment writer and a departmental leader, counseled me in the nuances of being a good soccer dad and rescued me from the mosh pits of Riverbend and Bonnaroo coverage.

• Writer Karen Hill coached me through 10 years of parenthood, sharing laughs and tender stories about our kids along the way.

• Clint Cooper, a lifelong editor and scribe, taught me that staff members with deep roots in a community are the lifeblood of our profession.

• Susan Pierce, who preceded me as Features Editor, gracefully accepted every task I ever gave her.

• Lin Parker, a talented page designer, sat down beside me at lunch one day last week and said she felt like she was losing a "pesky little brother." I loved that.

A few months ago, Times Free Press Managing Editor Alison Gerber called me aside and told me she wanted me to become the Opinion Editor.

I humbly and happily accepted the challenge.

In the meantime, Shawn Ryan, a talented editor with tons of experience in features is now leading the Life crew. I imagine you'll see improvements in the section immediately.

I don't imagine I was anyone's obvious choice for the Opinions Page job, since I have spent 55 years basically trying to please people and avoiding strong opinions about everything except faith, family and football.

Now, I find myself working among people who have strong opinions in their sleep and are deeply convinced that you, too, could think just like them.

Seriously, cartoonist Clay Bennett, Times Editorial Page Editor Harry Austin and Free Press Editorial Page Editor Drew Johnson are true big shots at their crafts.

I'll bet they are wondering right now why a pesky little man has been placed in their midst.

Me too, I guess.

I did inherit some fancy office chairs from Lee Anderson, the courtly and kind former editor of the Free Press opinion pages who means so much to so many. Earlier today, I found myself looking at one of those chairs and thinking of all the powerful bottoms that have sat in it through the years.

At that moment, it occurred to me that I've sat at scores of kitchen tables, on hundreds of living room couches, in dozens of porch rockers, talking to ordinary people in 30 years as a reporter and human interest columnist.

With that thought, my chin lifted a little. That's it, I thought, that's what I can bring to the table on the Opinion Pages staff.

I can bring you.