I had read TIME Magazine for as long as I could remember, even signed up for my own subscription when I was in college. So when I went to work here more than 15 years ago, I thought I had an appreciation for the power of that red border. But as it turned out, Newt Gingrich was the one who first impressed upon me what it really meant to be working for this extraordinary magazine.
It was October, 1994, the month that I joined TIME from the Los Angeles Times to cover Congress. It was also only a few weeks before what was looking like a potential earthquake of a midterm election. My new editors told me they wanted a story on the firebrand Republican Congressman who was the face of the voter anger that suddenly seemed to be coming from everywhere.
There was a problem, though. Gingrich was barnstorming every convservative corner of America in an eight-seater airplane. Keeping up with him was impossible, as pretty much every political reporter in the country was discovering. At one point, I even went so far as to charter my own plane with a reporter from the Washington Post to get to a rally in Tullahoma, Tennessee. (Yes, younger colleagues, there was a time when when a reporter could put a plane on the expense account…)
But it still wasn’t working. The logistics were killing me. I couldn’t get the kind of close-up view of the guy that I needed to tell this story right. Until I mentioned to someone on his staff that a TIME cover might be in the works. Suddenly, one of those eight seats belonged to me.
As I buckled myself in, I pressed Newt as to why he had relented and let me aboard. He looked at me like I was a little thick for even asking that question. It was the fact that what he was doing had been deemed worthy of the red border. The future Speaker told me, off the top of his head, that Richard Nixon had been on 55 TIME covers. That figure, it turns out, had made an impression on him when it had been cited at Nixon’s funeral earlier that year. (Newt, of course, would go on to see himself there several more times, including as Man of the Year in 1995.)
Since then, I’ve been a writer on more than three dozen of those covers, and hundreds of other stories for TIME. My thrill at seeing my own words in this magazine has never dimmed. But when you are privileged enough to see the process from the inside, you develop a different kind of respect for what it takes to produce TIME week in and week out, to make it what it is. There is not a day that I have worked here that I haven’t grown, thanks to editors who never stop pushing us to aim high and go deep. Or looked a little smarter than I am, thanks to the generosity of fellow correspondents willing to share what’s in their brains and their notebooks. More times than I can count, I’ve been saved from looking as stupid as I deserve to, thanks to a researcher who cares enough to make sure that what I’ve written is not only accurate but right.
So, today, on my last day at this magazine, I’d like to take this moment to thank all of them. That includes many former colleagues who have gone on to other opportunities in this turbulent business and beyond. In recent years, our staff has gotten smaller, even as what we are asked to do has expanded. We no longer publish just once a week; we are out there constantly.
It is a change in the metabolism of the place that has taken us out of our old news cycle–and out of our old comfort zone. I will admit that writing this blog was not my choice; I was, as they say in the Marines, “voluntold.” But as I plunged in, I began to realize that, done right, blogging could make me a better journalist. Where an occasional letter to the editor was what passed for feedback in the old days, we now hear from our readers instantly. They constantly–often brutally–challenge my assumptions and preconceptions, which means I have to do the same thing. I’m grateful for that, too. Plus, blogging has actually turned out to be something I would never have expected — fun. That is one reason I spend so much of my time in the community that has grown out of our comments section.
I’m looking forward to the new challenge that awaits me at the Washington Post. But keep an eye out for me here, too. Every now and then, you might find me weighing in on something down there in the Swampland comments.