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Arrivederci Berkeley

Becky O’Malley
Friday August 15, 2003

This issue of The Planet marks a watershed. It’s the last one for which Michael Howerton is managing editor. The house joke is that we decided to hire him because we knew that if we didn’t like him he’d be gone soon. In fact, we had already decided to hire him when he learned that his historian wife had been awarded a prestigious fellowship to spend a year in Rome, and, oddly enough, he wanted to go with her. Because he seemed so well suited to the job, we decided to hire him anyway for the four month duration, and we haven’t regretted it. 

His best qualification has always been that he genuinely loves Berkeley, where he grew up. Besides that, though, he’s demonstrated many other virtues which have been essential to getting the new Planet launched. He’s well-educated and well-read (not always the same thing), qualities not needed for all papers but required in Berkeley where we have many intellectually fastidious readers. He’s curious—usually the first one out the door when we hear a siren or a crash on our horrendous Shattuck corridor. He’s patient, but not excessively so, with writers who are late on deadlines or turn in sloppy copy (it’s been know to happen, even at the Planet). He’s even been patient with a ridiculously demanding executive editor on occasion. He’s cool in a crisis, and we’ve had a few. For example, when the copy editor stood up from her desk after laying out an early issue and fell over in a faint, he got the paper out on schedule while she went off to the hospital in an ambulance. 

It’s hard to believe, but thanks to Michael we’ve actually got a routine going now. It no longer seems a minor miracle that bundles of newspapers come back from the printers on Tuesdays and Fridays. As our advertising grows, our page count has grown with it, and we’ve been able to expand the scope of our coverage. He’s brought in some good new writers, not much published elsewhere until he found them. He has a sure sense of what it means to be a community newspaper in a very unusual community, and that’s guided our decisions as we expand. 

Of course, the dark side of the house joke is that since we turned out to like Michael Howerton a great deal, we’re really sorry to see him leave. We do realize that he’d have to be crazy to pass up a year in Rome. 

Because he’s created such a strong foundation, we’ve been able to hire a successor managing editor with complementary qualifications, who will be able to build on the good things we’ve got going and add new dimensions. Richard Brenneman has had a long and distinguished reporting and editing career at excellent papers like the Sacramento Bee. Early in his career, he worked for a family-owned paper in Santa Monica, a town which is often compared to Berkeley, which gave him a strong interest in bucking the corporate media tide. We’re lucky to have him. 

Fortuitously, just as we were closing today’s letter page, we got a short letter in the mail which provides the perfect capstone to the work we’ve done under Michael’s stewardship. Here it is: 

“You put out one hell of a good community newspaper. Congratulations and thanks. Best regards, Ben.” 

We’re really proud to get such a letter from Ben Bagdikian, the dean of American journalism, and Michael Howerton deserves a lot of the credit. Thanks, Michael, for what you’ve done for the Planet. 

Since you’ve been here a relatively short time, and you’re going to Rome, we’re tempted to offer you the ancient Roman salute, ave atque vale ( hale and farewell). But we prefer the modern Roman ciao, which means both hello and goodbye. The underlying hope it expresses is that we’ll meet again before too long. And while you’re away, do write. The Planet would love to have a European correspondent. 


Becky O’Malley is Executive Editor of the Daily Planet.