A Northern Virginia Daily special anniversary section

Celebrating 75 years: Index of stories
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Daily offered editor a chance to come home

By Bob Wooten
Managing Editor

Bob Wooten

Managing editor
Bob Wooten

About eight years ago I got the phone call that brought me home.

I was toiling away at my desk in the newsroom at the Herald-Mail, a daily newspaper in Hagerstown, Md. The caller was Elizabeth "Libby" Smoot, then business manager at The Northern Virginia Daily. Libby and I had a mutual friend in the newspaper business who thought we might be able to help each other.

The managing editor's job at the Daily was open, and this fellow thought I might be interested. He also thought the Daily could use a well-traveled war horse in the job.

At first, I was a bit dubious about the idea. I'd been an editor in Hagerstown for more than a decade and had, as one colleague liked to put it, "become part of the furniture." He might have meant that as a compliment, but that couch and coffee table image always worried me just a little.

Anyway, I wasn't looking around at the time.

But the more Libby and I talked, the more I liked the idea of working in Strasburg. I'm a Virginia native, and after stints working in Louisiana, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maryland, I can assure you there's no place like home.

What's more, Strasburg is in the Shenandoah Valley, an area I came to love while studying journalism at James Madison University.

And the more I learned about the Daily, the more appealing the job itself sounded.

It was a rare opportunity -- to supervise a news department at a truly independent newspaper. The Daily is renowned for qualities journalists cherish. Decisions about news coverage are made free from political bias, pressure from advertisers or corporate conformity. The newspaper makes a serious investment in good journalism and aggressively champions the First Amendment.

I had been at several newspapers before coming to the Daily in 1999. They were good, honest shops but none quite put the whole package together the way the Daily does.

Today, the Daily marks 75 years of delivering that impressive package to readers across the Northern Shenandoah Valley. In 1932, E.E. Keister took a gamble that would make most businessmen quail. America was in the throes of the Great Depression -- money was scarce, unemployment was crippling and the future looked like a frightful place. Keister, however, saw possibilities. The owner of a handful of small weekly newspapers merged his operations into a single daily product. It was risky, but it positioned the Daily to be an even stronger institution once the Depression was over.

That risk is still paying off. The Daily remains a strong and growing institution today, even as the newspaper industry comes to terms with the challenges posed by new technology and a changing society.

I'd like to think the late Mr. Keister would be pleased with how his newspaper has been cared for by Libby, who is now the newspaper's general manager, Editor John Horan and the rest of the management team here. We are stewards of a wonderful tradition, a newspaper devoted to keeping the valley informed, enlightened and sometimes even entertained. It's a newspaper where professionals are free to do their best to do important work the right way.

That's why I ended up taking this job, and to this day I'm glad I got that phone call. It gave me a chance to come home and to be a part of something special.

* Bob Wooten is the managing editor of the Daily. Contact him at (800) 296-5137 or at bwooten@nvdaily.com.

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