Saturday, September 08, 2007

Janet Clayton May Be Making A Smart Move

President Lyndon B. Johnson used to say that no one should hold the same job for more than five years, that it was necessary to move on, if one wanted to move up.

This observation springs to mind as we contemplate the decision of Los Angeles Times Metro Editor Janet Clayton to leave the Times and pursue other career options. Clayton has done well in three major jobs at the Times, as a reporter in the City-County bureau under Bill Boyarsky, as editorial page editor and, most recently as Metro Editor. Since no further advances seemed in the offing, and since she is still in full possession of all her faculties and energy, it may indeed be a good move for her to leave the paper and do something else.

Other Times editors have made such moves, and they have prospered. Ed Guthman has made several such changes in his life, and they all worked out well. From a soldier in World War II, he became a prize-winning Seattle newspaper reporter, press secretary for Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, then was hired by Otis Chandler as national editor of the Times, then, when relations frayed with Frank Haven and Mark Murphy, he went to the Philadelphia Inquirer as editorial page editor, and, finally, when he retired from that post, he returned to Los Angeles and became a long-serving journalism professor at the Annenberg Center at USC. Now, his has been a life in which he has taken full advantage of his talents and enjoyed himself besides.

Bob Trounson, a political editor, then assistant foreign editor, then an assistant business editor at the Times, left the paper when his career there had seemingly topped out, to move to Japan and become the editor of Stars and Stripes. He had a much better time in Japan than he would have in Los Angeles during those years, and is now living in happy retirement back in Southern California.

In fact, it also seems important in these moves not to burn too many bridges behind one. Both Guthman and Trounson kept their Los Angeles homes, renting them out, and were able to return here in retirement, despite soaring real estate prices. When Mark Murphy, by contrast, left the Times to pursue a career at the Hartford Courant that did not really work out, there was no place for him to return to. He ended up at the Fort Worth paper in Texas, but his career really peaked as Metro Editor of the Times.

Sometimes, the move is simply made out of exhaustion, or frustration, to a less pressured life. I think Noel Greenwood is much happier as a book agent, than he was in his last years as Metro Editor of the Times, when he ran out of patience with many staff members and finally was left with nothing to do by Shelby Coffey, when Coffey was editor. It was the smartest thing for Greenwood to do, to leave.

As Class Secretary of the Dartmouth College class of 1960, I've had a good chance to observe many careers, and have found that second ones are often better than first. I had a classmate who lost his corporate job in a shakeup. He had long had a hobby of collecting maps. He became an antique map dealer and has made millions at this. He likes it a lot better than his corporate job.

But sometimes, in retirement, some one chooses to do something much simpler, but something he has always wanted to do. An orthopedic surgeon in our class in Detroit moved with his wife to Key West and became a taxi driver. He had saved enough from his medical practice, so he could do anything he wanted and what he has wanted all his life was to be a taxi driver. He may like it better because he only drives three days a week.

Other classmates gave up successful careers in advertising, banking and law to move back to the Hanover, N.H., area so they could be part of the Dartmouth College community. One simply has renovated a wonderful 18th Century house, while becoming active in Dartmouth governance. Another built a fabulous home, almost right on the Appalachian Trail, and became overseer of Dartmouth's Hood art museum. Since he had accumulated quite a fortune while representing Citi Bank in Asia, he also could afford a condo in San Francisco, where he spends a lot of time close to a daughter. The third, a Washington lawyer who specialized in nuclear energy issues, bought a beautiful farm house in Lyme, N.H., and soon found he could practice national law just as well there as he could in Washington. His office is right at his house, 10 miles north of Hanover. He likes to say it sure beats the Washington traffic.

I probably stayed too long at the Times, 39 years, and am now enjoying retirement, spending most of my time doing this blog, traveling and seeing a lot of my children and grandchildren. I had a good career at the Times, doing a lot of different things, but I was frustrated there in the last five years before Dean Baquet thankfully forced me into retirement.

Even with great political figures, there are often hiatuses in their lives, where they live in the political wilderness, or do something entirely different for awhile, only to be summoned back to high, and in some cases, supreme political office in a time of crisis.

This was certainly true of Abraham Lincoln, who served in the Illinois Legislature and one, rather unhappy term in Congress, before returning home to become a country lawyer and a corporate attorney for the Illinois Central Railroad. When Stephen Douglas moved to expand slavery with the foul Kansas-Nebraska Act, Lincoln reentered politics and six years later became President, in fact the greatest President. He emancipated the slaves and saved the Union, and it was all a second career.

Winston Churchill occupied a number of key posts in the British Government, from president of the Board of Trade, to Home Secretary, to First Lord of the Admiralty, to Minister of Munitions, to Colonial Secretary, to Chancellor of the Exchequer, only to sink, in considerable disrepute, into the political wilderness for 10 years. Lady Astor gloated that his career was "finished," as did many others, but Adolf Hitler rose in Germany, Churchill sized him up for what he was before almost anyone else, and later became Britain's heroic prime minister during World War II. Later, after the war, Churchill was once again ousted from power, but managed to come back and serve again as Prime Minister in the heart of the Cold War. In fact, earlier in his career, Churchill was considered a failure and was ousted as First Lord of the Admirality after the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign. He joined the Army in the trenches in France during the bloodiest days of World War I.

Charles de Gaulle flew in the face of many traditions in the French Army and rose only slowly before World War II. But the Nazi conquest of France induced him to fly to England to continue the war against Germany on June 18, 1940. He became a national hero, but his years in power immediately after the Allied armies liberated France were frustrating. He voluntarily retired, went home to the small village of Colombey Les Deux Eglises, but wrote in his memoirs that old as he was he was always watching "for the gleam of hope." As the New York Times wrote in a memorable obituary editorial years later, "It was more than a gleam, and when it flashed on May 13, 1958, with the uprising of the settlers and army in Algeria, it was Charles de Gaulle, not they, who took advantage of the moment." He returned to power, defied the settlers and the Army, survived several assassination attempts, liquidated the war in Algeria by giving the Algerians their independence, and became Time magazine's Man of the Year, at a time that honor still meant something. As Time put it, "Glory came to Charles de Gaulle."

So it is a mistake to think that, just because careers take a turn, or even seem to suffer a reverse, all is over. Often, the best lies ahead, and that may well be the case with Janet Clayton. In any case, we can only wish her well.



Anonymous Ted Vollmer said...

Thanks Ken,
I just heard about Janet's departure this afternoon at a session on journalism's future in San Ramon with another former Times reporter, Pam Moreland, who is now at the Merc. I left 18 years ago and don't regret that move, and hope that Janet also learns soon there is life after The Times. She's a terrific journalist who has always had a quiet passion about the quality of our profession. (Sometimes she was a little louder than quiet, but that's another story). Janet will find a new path and those in her way had better watch out. Ted Vollmer

9/10/2007 6:28 PM  

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