A farewell from Steve Forrester

David Pero, left, new publisher and editor, and retiring Publisher Steve Forrester, share a laugh with Donna Quinn of Cannery Pier Hotel, and Warrenton City Commissioner Henry Balensifer Aug. 3 at a community open house at The Daily Astorian office.

If I could time travel, I would like to see the Astoria harbor captured in Cleveland Rockwell’s painting, “Early Morning, View of Tongue Point from Astoria” (1883).

This radiant oil illustration, on display in the Columbia River Maritime Museum, captures the era of cargo ships under sail.

I would like to have known Astoria when its downtown resided on wooden pilings — that free-for-all, sin city with the Finnish-language newspapers, a large Chinese quarter and the diminutive, powerful mogul Capt. George Flavel walking by.

Sixteen years following Capt. Flavel’s death, my grandfather and partners purchased the Astoria Evening Budget.  In 1929 they would purchase The Daily Astorian and merge the two.

I am part of a succession that began when my grandfather, E.B. Aldrich, and partners started doing business here in 1919. To be in the third generation of a family-owned business — especially a newspaper — is to be conscious of one’s moment on life’s stage.

“We come on to the stage in the middle of a play,” said the Rev. Alan Jones of San Francisco. “We need to discern where we are in the drama in progress and learn the part assigned to us.”

There are many ways of describing my experience. One is our newsroom, which for decades has been something of a graduate school in journalism and life. Over 28 years, upward of 90 reporters and photographers have worked in our building.

Joan Herman was one of the first reporters who took me out on her beat, which was City Hall. How wonderful that Joan has recently returned to Astoria.

I will not begin to name the other remarkable talents that inhabited the desks of our newsroom over almost three decades. The list is long, and I would be negligent in omitting a name or two. The parade of photographers — Kent Kerr, Robin Loznak, Andy Dolan, Masako Watanabe, Laurie Assa, Alex Pajunas, Joshua Bessex and Danny Miller — has produced a remarkable body of work. They were preceded by another artist, Bill Wagner, who worked for my brother and father.

In the Vietnam War memoir Dispatches, Michael Herr writes of “… remote, closed societies, mute and intractable.” That would overstate the Astoria of 1987. But as I got to know that community, people told me about the group of Astorians who opposed all change. I never found them. Instead, it seemed to me that inertia had frozen the town.

The town has changed dramatically, due in no small part to the influx of new blood with new ideas. Some of these were adults who had grown up here, gotten experience elsewhere and returned.

My Astoria career has coincided with dramatic shifts in the technology behind our product. Laura Sellers described the last 20 years quite well in her Notebook of last Friday.

My father died only 16 years ago. But he would not recognize what we do to bring this 144-year-old newspaper to a digital audience. He would, however, recognize the human comedy of Astoria and Clatsop County that finds a home in our pages.

Succession is everything in business and nonprofit organizations. The succession from me to David Pero, which occurs today, began over one year ago, with planning by our board of directors. We advertised, interviewed candidates, analyzed and interviewed again.

David will be the second of two nonfamily editor-publishers of this newspaper since our family entered the scene in 1919. My father’s partner Merle Chessman enjoyed an especially long tenure (1919-1947). His son Bob was publisher until 1960, when we hired an outsider, Morgan Coe, who had been active in Alaska publishing.

Running a newspaper these days involves having one’s foot in at least two eras. While working at the Hearst Corp., David Pero drafted the first white paper for entering the digital world for Hearst newspapers. He brings a broad range of news and publishing talent to Astoria.

For the past four weeks, I have introduced David to a broad range of business people, civic leaders and professionals in Clatsop County, while Matt Winters did the same in Pacific County, Washington.

As I walk out the door today, I anticipate a new era that our readers will find exciting.

My main role now becomes president and CEO of EO Media Group, our family’s company that operates 11 newspapers in Oregon and Washington.

From time to time, I will be asked to be this newspaper’s institutional memory. My words occasionally will make their way to this page.

And in my corporate role, planning for succession will continue to be my primary task.

— S.A.F.