By Bill McEwen
The Fresno Bee won’t be the same now that Jim Boren has announced that he will retire in January.
It can’t be the same. Not when someone has poured as much of himself into an endeavor as Jim has during his 48 years with the newspaper.
For many in our city, Jim is The Fresno Bee.
He’s the guy who always answers his phone, the one on his desk and the cell in his pocket.
Got a complaint about a story? Jim will hear you out.
Didn’t get your paper? Jim will see that it’s delivered or even deliver it himself.
Putting on a fundraiser for a nonprofit? Jim will meet with you for lunch to learn about it, and likely make a donation.
Boren Policy: Ask Questions, Be Persistent
His policy on reporting is straightforward. Ask questions, be persistent, dig out the facts, check twice — if not three times — to make sure you get them straight and write the story. Never assume something to be true, otherwise you and The Bee could look like fools.
But The Fresno Bee’s executive editor and senior vice president is most of all a people person. His heart is as deep and wide as the Grand Canyon.
He roots for people and Fresno to succeed. And, unlike many of us, he is willing to grant folks an extra chance or two to justify his faith in them.
Going the Extra Mile
Jim rose through the ranks in the Golden Age of Journalism, when newsrooms had an abundance of reporters — those learning the trade and seasoned veterans — and healthy travel budgets.
I wasn’t at The Bee when he started, but his byline was one I looked for. He had the personality, the drive and the courage to make stories better — what editors called “going the extra mile” — that stamped him as a star on the rise.
He distinguished himself as a political reporter and columnist covering local, gubernatorial and presidential campaigns. When he became The Bee’s Editorial Page boss, the fit was a good one.
Jim practically had seen it all in politics. He knew the importance of good public policy and he had the right temperament to hold leaders and institutions accountable without letting disagreements turn into personal battles on his end.
But when The Bee Editorial Board believed in a cause, Jim would either write or order the writing of repeated editorials on the subject. I’ll never forget him telling me that it sometimes requires up to 75 editorials to get a bad law changed or to get something important accomplished. He called this pounding away at an issue “drip irrigation.”
And, as executive editor, Jim committed The Bee’s resources to stories that needed telling. I doubt, for example, that the Fresno City Council would have passed its rental inspection ordinance and adopted other efforts to rein in slumlords if not for the compelling stories and video produced under his leadership.
Gift of Humor and Caring About Others
You might not know it, but Jim is obsessed with emerging technologies. If there’s a new gadget out there, you can bet he has it. Long before drone video footage became a media staple, he had The Bee utilizing a drone. Then the Federal Aviation Administration found out and temporarily sidelined “Scoopy One.”
You might not know, too, that if Jim hadn’t made journalism his career, he might have become a highly successful television comedian or comedy writer. He’s the funniest guy I’ve ever met, capable of delivering monologues on the news and gossip of the day or penning a wicked one-liner. Often times, if you had lunch with Jim, you spent a lot more time laughing than eating.
Part of his humor is simply a gift. Like many funny people, though, I am sure some of it is an antidote for tough times. Jim lost the love of his life, his wife, Joy, early on to a medical condition that seemingly came out of nowhere. She was a teacher, and it’s no coincidence that Jim made improving educational opportunities for people of all ages a priority on the Editorial Page.
Kids Day and Baseball
Other than his daughter, Marissa, and The Bee, Jim’s greatest passions might be Kids Day and baseball.
He’s never misses a Kids Day and is highly involved with The Bee/ABC30 fundraiser for Valley Children’s Hospital. Jim came up with the concept of utilizing the high-traffic intersection at Blackstone and Shaw avenues to raise the event’s profile. And he personally invites politicians and sports stars to sell papers there.
Jim loves the San Francisco Giants and follows them faithfully through their ups and downs. A catcher long ago at Hoover High School, he put on a uniform again when Senior League baseball cranked up in Fresno and led the league in hitting.
For a once-proud and highly accomplished regional newspaper like The Bee, the transition to a digital media company is a difficult journey. Jim led that transition the best way anyone could under nearly impossible conditions and short-sighted McClatchy corporate mandates.
He will leave in January the same way he came in — putting facts and people first. And making politicians perform better.
Jim deserves a big “thank you” from Bee readers for a remarkable career — the likes of which the Valley will never see again.