Stephen Stirling, one of the best reporters in New Jersey, is leaving the Star-Ledger and NJ.com after more that a decade. His eloquent departure message, originally posted on his Twitter account, is reprinted in its entirety:
After more than 10 years, today is my last day at the Star-Ledger/NJ.com. I want to say a bit more about why I’m leaving (within the legal constraints of what I can say), because I think it’s important that we talk about these things.
This place gave me more opportunities to do good work than most reporters get in a career, and for that, I’ll forever be grateful. I didn’t really want to leave. It came to a point where I knew I had to.
I didn’t want to leave because local news is my passion and, to me, the bedrock of the fourth estate in this country. I grew up with the Star-Ledger. I take pride in my home state. Its residents deserve a strong, local press corps.
I wanted to stay and become part of the leadership here. It became clear in the last year that it wasn’t going to happen. I wasn’t part of their long-term plans. And really, I don’t know or understand what those plans are.
A good deal of that is on me. I challenged the leadership in open forums on issues of accuracy, tone, on their employees’ rights, on hiring, etc. That’s not a good way to buy currency in many places and certainly didn’t win me a lot of fans in management.
And why would it? Everything about this work in this environment is hard. Being challenged from within the room isn’t easy to deal with. Social tact, when I’m upset about something, has never been my strong suit. Doesn’t mean I think it’s any less important, but I get it.
But more than anything, the place feels lost. It’s not for a lack of talent. There are dozens of hard-working, dedicated reporters in this room. But lately, I found it harder and harder to answer questions like “what are we?” or “what is our mission?”
I need to know that. Because if I don’t understand the mission of the organization I work for, I can’t defend it. I can’t take pride in it. I can’t fight for it.
I know I’m not alone on some of this, and can only speak for myself. I will say of the six reporters and one editor who were on the data team on this day last year, only two remain and only one is still on the team. That isn’t just ‘attrition’
I hope NJAM finds its way, finds itself. I’ve no doubt that it can. And I’ve no doubt that the folks here are trying to figure it out. But I’m just not a part of it, and that’s ok.
Divorces are complicated. I have a lot of love for this place. Folks here stood by me when my life fell apart due to addiction. They stood by me when I made mistakes early in my career here. People here, past and present, helped made me into the successful journalist I am today.
All of that is to say, I don’t have a lot of animosity. Things don’t always work out as planned. People change, organizations change. We all move on to fight what we see as the good fight in our own way.
But it is sad. I’ve carried this banner for more than a quarter of my life and 2/3rds of my career. But like all other legacy media, this company is trying to arrest decline. And I fear the forces pushing down on it may be too big to overcome. I hope not.
I want to be clear: I’m staying in journalism. I’ll have more to say about my new gig in January, after a much-needed childless mini-vacation with my wife. But I’m so excited and so ready.
And I also want to note that I’m not done with journalism in New Jersey. I’ve been building the framework for something big for a few years now, and when I’m ready to hit go on that you’ll know it.
End of rant. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. And to my NJ followers, thank you for the years of support (and derision).
I keep the coffee-stained card from Wayne Barrett’s funeral on my desk. It’ll come with me, because it’s been a pretty good guiding light so far.