New leadership takes over Peninsula News newsroom

Executive editor retires, worked 18 years in posts at newspaper

Leah Leach.

Leah Leach.

PORT ANGELES — By the time you read this, I will be gone. I’m not dead. I’m retiring.

Let me introduce you to the person taking over.

Brian McLean is succeeding me. Although his title is editor, not executive editor as mine has been for the last nine years, his role will encompass all of the responsibilities, challenges and daily decision-making that mine has. His 20-year career has come full-circle, and then some.

He started as a sports clerk at Peninsula News in 1997 and over the next four years he advanced to covering nine high schools in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

He returned in 2019 as a reporter for the paper’s Jefferson County bureau, where he covered city and county governments as well as courts, schools and the port. In March 2020, he was named managing editor and he was promoted to editor this month.

In between his stints at the Peninsula News, he was the sports editor at The Peninsula Gateway, a weekly publication in Gig Harbor, and a sports reporter at The Olympian, a daily paper in the state capitol, before he returned to the Gateway in 2007 as the managing editor. He spent the next seven years leading the news team both online and in print, and he served as both editor and publisher at the Gateway and The Herald, a weekly publication in Puyallup.

In 2014, McLean took a three-year break from the newspaper industry when he worked as the communications coordinator at Peninsula Light Co., a utility cooperative that serves electric and water meters in Gig Harbor and on the Key Peninsula.

Serving as the utility’s legislative liaison, he gained valuable experience in how state government works.

Wherever he has been, he has been invested in the community through volunteer work. He has served on the boards of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, the Gig Harbor Film Festival and the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation, and he chaired Students of Distinction, a scholarship and recognition program for graduating seniors in the Peninsula School District.

He is married with two children. One is a freshman at Port Angeles High School and the other will enter kindergarten in fall 2024.

He has been a mainstay at the PDN since he arrived. He steps into the role as leader of the newsroom today. My last day on the job at the Peninsula News was Thursday.

Expect something different in McLean from what you have had in me. He is more attuned to digital and social media than I am, and the man has some good ideas.

For me, this is the end of a 50-year career reporting and editing community news. I started at The Taos News as art and society editor, the only job for a woman, it was thought then, and after three months of finding my own general news stories, I was named a general news reporter.

I stepped into my first job as the lead editor of a newsroom at the Las Vegas Daily Optic in New Mexico after a stint in eastern Oklahoma. From there, I worked as a bureau reporter for the Albuquerque Journal after my daughter was born until she was old enough for me to return to a newsroom.

I moved to California to fill the position of city editor at The Hanford Sentinel south of Fresno, stepping up eventually to the position of managing editor, leading the newsroom. After 15 years, when my daughter went off to college, I threw my hat in the ring for a new adventure and landed in Victoria, Texas.

From there, I came to Port Angeles to work for then-publisher and future mentor John Brewer as the newsroom’s managing editor in 2006. I was promoted in 2015 to executive editor after Rex Wilson retired.

I have lived on the North Olympic Peninsula and worked at the Peninsula News for 18 years.

Retirement is a bittersweet ending to my career; I wish I had done more. There are so many stories I didn’t do.

But I have memories. I covered racial tensions in the Central Valley of California. In Northern New Mexico, I covered the local La Raza chapter and learned something of what it’s like to be in the ethnic minority.

In eastern Oklahoma, I covered a phalanx of Baptist women marching on a Quik-Stop allegedly selling Hustler under the counter after a preacher from Oklahoma City came to town and got them stirred up about pornography.

I got to cover a hurricane in Texas — the demure Hurricane Claudette — and was awestruck by the way the storm seemed to just suck up water from the Gulf of Mexico, carry it 30 miles and spit it in our faces while throwing trees like they were wedding bouquets.

Here, there are so many great people, so many memories. One of the most stunning is of a Saturday at 2 p.m. when I was congratulating myself on having only one more story to edit and looking forward to an easy, early deadline. Then the phone on my desk rang and a woman told me: “The Makah just shot a whale.” That sparked an afternoon of reporters working hard, updating the website and fielding calls from all over the country, as well as remaking the front page.

Life lesson: Don’t get too comfortable. Everything can change in an instant.

Other such lessons journalists learn are: There is no shame in admitting you don’t know if you do your best to find out, or in admitting a mistake if you make all the amends you can.

Journalism has its moments of drudgery, but it is also an adventure.

It doesn’t pay well — with some televised exceptions — but it is so much fun that it is hard to think of doing anything else.

The industry has been less enjoyable the last few years. As revenues have declined, so have news staff numbers and compensation has remained stagnant. We now work hard to just try to cover the bases while watching good stories float by untold.

That is frustrating.

However, I can tell you that the PDN news staff always gives it their all.

This newspaper is going through changes. Some changes may be to your liking; some may not. But I want you to know that the soul of the thing — the reporters and editors and their urge to tell a truthful, compelling story — that soul is a constant.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

________

Leah Leach is the former executive editor of the Peninsula News.

Brian McLean.

Brian McLean.

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