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Executive Editor Green: Here’s what you can expect from me

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

“Everybody reads The Press Democrat.”

It’s a refrain I’ve heard repeatedly since arriving in Sonoma County two weeks ago and taking the reins as editor of this award-winning newspaper and its pressdemocrat.com digital site.

There was Bonny, the sales leader at a Montgomery Village store who helped me outfit my new kitchen. She’s been a loyal subscriber for 26 years.

And Deiah, the manager at my Sonoma Ranch apartment complex. She starts her day with coffee and our digital site on her tablet.

And finally, Ralph, the operator of a furniture store inside Coddingtown Mall, who perhaps said it best.

“Sonoma County is a big small town where people care about each other and the stories that happen here,” he told me as I was buying a couch for my new home and my newsroom office. “People here want to know the news from their backyard, not San Francisco.

“The Press Democrat seems to get that.”

Yes, Ralph, we do get it.

We have for 163 years, and that’s why I accepted the opportunity to leave my native Midwest and come to this beautiful corner of the country to pursue my life’s professional passion: Telling meaningful stories that make a difference, protect our most vulnerable and defend the First Amendment.

I know for some, my appointment has caused a stir. After all, I am succeeding the uber-talented Cathy Barnett, a Sonoma County icon who spent 21 years as our editor. She retired in December, capping a sterling 44-year Press Democrat career. Under her leadership, The Press Democrat won journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize, for coverage of 2017’s deadly wildfires.

Be assured that Cathy and I share the same unflinching commitment to fair and fearless journalism of consequence. It’s been my North Star since age 15 when I started writing for my hometown newspaper back in east-central Ohio as a high school sophomore.

I’m humbled by the opportunity to guide The Press Democrat into a new era with a talented array of reporters, assignment editors, photographers, digital producers, designers and copy editors. It’s an important time for our profession, and I’m proud to join a passionate team determined to meet the high expectations of our readers.

I have the additional role of chief content officer for Sonoma Media Investments. That is the privately held local company formed a decade ago that owns The Press Democrat, as well as other local publications and related digital sites you know extremely well: Sonoma Magazine, the North Bay Business Journal, Petaluma Argus-Courier, Sonoma Index-Tribune, Sonoma County Gazette and La Prensa, the region’s premier Spanish language publication and website.

In that role, I have responsibility for all the journalism pursued by our staffs and the stories that we deliver to our loyal readers — no matter what platform (print or digital) you may find us.

I come to Sonoma County after ending a 33-year career in December with the Gannett Co., the nation’s largest publisher and owner of USA Today.

I started in the company as a 22-year-old reporter and columnist in 1988 at a small daily in southern Ohio near Columbus, the Chillicothe Gazette. A nine-month stint there led to rewarding jobs in Cincinnati, Palm Springs, Des Moines, metro New York City in North Jersey and Louisville, Kentucky.

Along the way, I was a community reporter, investigative writer, assignment editor, business editor, local news editor, general manager, managing editor, executive editor and president-publisher. I wrote my first story while hammering away on a typewriter in Ohio, and since then, I’ve sprinted around the nation to transform newsrooms into digital powerhouses.

I’ve made friends from coast-to-coast and always will cherish a professional journey that has allowed me to build high-performing teams while pursuing and publishing powerful journalism.

One of those stories — how Kentucky’s governor made a rash of controversial last-minute pardons and commutations in December 2019, several that involved sex crimes, as he was leaving office — earned a 2020 Pulitzer Prize at my last stop, the Courier Journal in Louisville. I spent 2½ years as executive editor there.

As I continue to settle into this new role and community, I’m grateful for the numerous calls and notes that have underscored a simple message: The Press Democrat is a Northern California treasure whose hard-hitting journalism and dedicated staffers have safeguarded taxpayers and righted wrongs for decades. Along the way, we’ve challenged when necessary and consistently celebrated all that is special and unique about Sonoma County.

The best editors I know are stewards of a community news site — protecting and elevating all that we deliver in our print editions and in the digital space.

So, what can you expect from me?

It starts with an unwavering commitment to the First Amendment, to investigative journalism and to finding and then telling — through innovative storytelling techniques — the compelling stories of Northern California’s problems and potential; its people and its special places.

It means telling relevant, unbiased, purposeful and powerful stories that tell both sides of an issue.

We will engage readers in new ways — virtually and at live events — and be your first source when important stories break.

And when those fast-changing stories do erupt, we will put accuracy and credibility above reckless urgency.

In all that we do, we will be judicious, fair and sophisticated. I expect that of my staff and of myself.

And readers like you, undoubtedly, demand that of us.

In the weeks ahead, you’ll see some changes designed to elevate our content mix and coverage of key issues.

For instance, we’re reviewing ways to elevate how we cover Sonoma County’s best-in-class wine industry and the related restaurant and winery scenes. We need to be a national authority on those topics.

Tragically, we have seen Mother Nature’s devastation far too often these past five years, which is why we will be expanding coverage of climate change and our region’s environment in new, in-depth ways.

In a community as diverse as ours, The Press Democrat must dedicate more attention and news columns to matters of race, inclusion and equality — and we will.

And, of course, we will continue to tell the story of the COVID-19 pandemic in a powerful, informative manner. Just as we dig into the rollout of vaccinations and recovery, we’ll also examine our rebooted economy and what that means to consumers, customers and entrepreneurs.

Put simply: We will be the eyes and ears of Northern California.

As editor, I believe content is king. And I promise to thoughtfully and strategically focus on the topics our readers most care about and fight like hell to protect and prioritize the investigative journalism our communities, state and nation so desperately need in these polarizing times.

We will kick over rocks, ask the tough questions, shine a bright light in those dark recesses of government, protect our most vulnerable and celebrate the many good things that happen in this awe-inspiring county nestled along the Pacific Ocean.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to be here and for the chance to explore your coastline, vineyards, redwoods, hiking trails, the Charles M. Schulz Museum and that beautiful drive along the Russian River.

And if you have recommendations, please, drop me a note.

I’m eager to share this adventure with you, so look for newsroom updates in occasional columns from me. You also can follow me on Twitter: @EditorRAG.

Thanks for reading and don’t start your day without The Press Democrat.

Richard A. Green is editor of The Press Democrat and chief content officer of Sonoma Media Investments. Email: rick.green@pressdemocrat.com.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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