Retired journalist jumps back on ‘The Poop Deck’ | Column

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

Why the heck am I writing this column, anyway? And, more importantly, why on earth are you reading it? Good questions.

I’m a 76-year-old recovering journalist who has lived on Mercer Island for almost 25 years now. I retired in 2015 after spending more than 50 years in and around journalism. I didn’t really plan to start writing again.

In fact, I had become pretty fed up with the state of journalism today, with its constant emphasis on conflict, scandal, disaster, war, crime, global warming, pollution and other bad news. I wanted to spend more time with my wife and family, especially my grandchildren, and enjoy life.

But a few months ago, after I wrote a couple of freelance pieces for the Mercer Island Reporter, I got a call from Andy Hobbs, the King County regional editor for Sound Publishing, which owns the MI Reporter and several other newspapers in the region. We met for coffee, and he asked if I’d like to start writing a regular column.

At first I said no. I had written a weekly column for The Seattle Times for nearly 15 years, and later a column for Eastsideweek and Seattle Weekly. I didn’t really want to take on that burden again. I also had been a media critic and co-founder of the Washington News Council, which tried to get journalists to be more transparent and accountable, which was a fun job, but not exactly a raging success with the media.

But after I thought about Andy’s proposal, I called him with three conditions:

I don’t want to write weekly. I did that for too long, and it’s a grind.

I didn’t want to be paid. That would make me feel guilty if I skipped a few weeks.

I didn’t want to write about bad news, but would focus on things that people are doing to make Mercer Island a better place to live.

To my surprise, Andy said yes to all three conditions, so here I am. After a few columns had run, Andy named my column “Hamer Time” — which wasn’t my idea, but I can live with it.

The first regular column I ever wrote in my life was 60 years ago for my high-school newspaper in Lake Oswego, Oregon. I called my column “The Poop Deck,” because our school had a nautical theme. My classmates often told me it was the perfect name.

Imagine my delight when I found a brass plaque with that name at a gift shop recently. I was swept by waves of nostalgia. Even though it was overpriced, I gladly paid. It still might be a better name for this column.

But if you’re still reading, you may know that in every column I’ve written in the past few months, I have tried to focus on positive stories about what Mercer Islanders are doing to help others and our whole community. I’ve written about park cleanup projects, playground renovation efforts, accessibility for the disabled, fundraising for Ukraine, and similar topics. My focus has been on individuals who are stepping up as citizens to make a difference. I’ve tried to tell positive stories, which in my view is a vital role of journalism, but often ignored in favor of more clickable bad news.

Many people I know have stopped following the news. They have cancelled their subscriptions to newspapers and get news entirely online or from TV or radio — if at all. But newspapers are still the lifeblood of a community in many ways, and good reporters, editors and columnists can be vital to a democratic society. I believe the MI Reporter does a pretty good job of covering this community.

I am glad to appear on these pages along with reporter Andy Nystrom and fellow columnists Greg Asimakoupoulos, Don Brunell and others. One of the most important jobs of journalism is to provide opinion and analysis and get people to think about important issues.

I often say that old journalists never die, they just keep bloviating in perpetuity. If you’re still reading, you can decide if you agree or not.

Meanwhile, I welcome ideas for future columns. Email me it you have a story to tell. The Poop Deck is still open.

Mercer Island resident John Hamer began his career at The Oregon Journal in Portland, got a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford, worked at Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., was on the editorial board of The Seattle Times, and was co-founder of the Washington News Council. He also writes regularly on Facebook. Email