Election Section

Cleaning off a cluttered desk to start a new pile

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet editor
Tuesday January 08, 2002

A Letter to the Readers: 


One day a couple of months ago, I looked up from the pile of newspapers I scan daily before heading to the office and saw the leaves on the plant hanging above me in my living room had turned brittle and brown. Nearby, I remarked that paint had started to peel away from the door frame between my kitchen and living room. 

Why hadn’t I noticed? 

But, then, outside my duties at the Daily Planet, I haven’t noticed much for quite a while.  

My tax preparer will attest, as he regularly reminds me, that I haven’t filed for 2000 yet. And, as my youngest granddaughter does not fail to point out, I haven’t set foot in her classroom in more than two years.  

While I’ve been chasing story ideas, checking facts, worrying about apostrophes and commas, whether freelancers’ paperwork is processed, what to do when a story falls through and how to help new reporters learn their beats, life outside our offices at 2076 University Ave. seems to have zipped ahead without me. 

Not that editing the Daily Planet isn’t riveting much of the time. Working with our reporters and UC Berkeley Journalism School students on our top-notch local coverage of the response to Sept. 11 was a tremendous experience. By covering the Boy Scout flap, the Afghanistan resolution and the flags-on-firetrucks controversies objectively, rather than from the angle of outside spin masters whose goal is to trivialize actions in our community, I believe the Daily Planet made an important contribution to the community debate. 

The “Berkeley Lite” column has given me the opportunity to exercise my own voice – chiding the school board for ignoring the state’s open meeting laws, the mayor for buying her undies in Walnut Creek, the cops for making public information difficult to access. (Our finest, by the way, have taken real steps forward in this domain.) 

I’ve been proud that we’ve been able to get to you, our readers, much of the not-so- “sexy” news that consumes the days and nights of our hardworking mayor, councilmembers and commissioners grappling with questions of how to make our city – our buildings and our streets – safer; how to make our small community more livable for all those who live and work here, saving creeks and open space, while building housing, supporting the arts, providing for those who cannot provide for themselves; how to support the academic greatness that comes from our renown university, while not being swallowed by it. There’s so much more… 

And most of that “more” is All of You – voices that come through on your page – Forum - strong voices debating the multiple angles of so many of the questions from near and far that touch our community. 

So, you see - yes, I am getting to the point – I’ve been weighing this incredible opportunity to direct a growing and increasingly professional newspaper against the long hours it takes to do so, the management stuff that drives me nuts and the fact that I scarcely have a minute these days between phone calls to write any more – and factoring in an idea for a book that has been gnawing at me for months - about Berkeley, of course. 

In the end, with the encouragement of friends and family, I’ve decided to leave my post here as editor. 

The good news is that I’m leaving you in the first-rate hands of Devona Walker, talented and experienced editor who helped start the San Mateo Daily Journal about 17 months ago. 

Walker, 32, originally from Oklahoma, graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism and went on to work in various capacities – reporter, copy editor, associate editor – at the Seattle Times, the Los Angeles Daily News, the Los Angeles Times and the Las Vegas Sun.  

“I’m looking forward to working in a city where people feel passionately about the city,” Walker said, adding that she sees the Daily Planet as a vehicle to help people get involved in their community. 

Before I head off to my new adventures in about two weeks – I want to thank you all for the warm – and yes, ever critical – welcome you’ve given to the Planet, which I joined one month after its founding, almost three years ago. It’s you, out there, who have kept me focused on what’s important, given me great tips about what’s really happening behind all those locked doors and closed mouths and kept my spirits up when I thought I couldn’t stand changing one more “your” to “you’re.” 

There’s others to thank before I go. Our three hard-working reporters, our ever-persistent freelancers, the journalism-school students and staff whose contributions have added depth to our coverage. And those whose names you don’t see listed – our “ambassadors” who take the papers to your places of work; our distribution team that rises in the wee hours of the morning to get the papers into the boxes; our sales guys that keep the ads flowing into the paper and production team that fits them neatly on the page. Our copy editor-paginator, whose creativity has added beauty and clarity to our pages; our calendar assistant and his team of volunteers that gets out the news of your events. And lastly I have to thank publisher Arnold Lee and the other of the papers’ founders for choosing Berkeley to launch their first free daily and for their commitment to journalistic integrity, maintaining that brick wall between editorial and advertising functions. 

And so, we’ll see each other around town as I work on my book, freelance some stories, maybe teach a few classes, and take a long moment to drink a latte slowly in the sun – bound to return in a week or so – as I read all about your doings in the Daily Planet.