The Time Has Come

05/25/2011 11:45 am ET

To paraphrase Gen. Douglas MacArthur, old editors never die, they just fade away, which is what I plan to do after writing this (my farewell column to run tomorrow in The Hill). It's the last of 516 columns that I have written for The Hill since its inaugural issue of Sept. 21, 1994.

My decision to step down as editor has been an open secret since last January, when I informed my colleagues and anyone else I thought should know that, at age 69, it was time to do some other things with my life, or what’s left of it.

This means writing several books I have in mind, including a half-finished biography of the late Cardinal Richard Cushing of Boston, spending time as a visiting professor at several universities I’m talking to, reading the many books I haven’t found time for, and traveling, both around this great country and abroad.

However, I’m keeping my ties to The Hill. I’ll continue as a kind of roving editor at large while contributing an occasional article or interview and maintaining the ties and friendships I’ve made with those in and out of power since coming to Washington from St. Paul as a rookie reporter 40 years ago this October.

I leave my full-time involvement in journalism with no real regrets, other than the fact that I won’t be in daily contact with my colleagues at The Hill, who are some of the nicest and brightest people I know, all of whom are younger and more energetic. I’ll also miss many of the interesting people I’ve written about over the years.

From our talented editorial staff, to the dedicated production staffers who make sure this newspaper gets published, to the hard-working advertising people who make sure we content providers get paid, to our circulation people and support staff and our far-sighted publisher, Jimmy Finkelstein, and his dad, Jerry, I owe a huge debt of gratitude.

I leave confident that The Hill is in good hands, under the leadership of Editor in Chief Hugo Gurdon and Associate Publisher Francine McMahon and a fine group of editors and reporters, and poised for even greater success than we’ve enjoyed in our relatively short existence.

Since the first column I wrote was about journalistic ethics, it’s only fitting that I offer this thought in my last one: While journalism has changed dramatically in the past decade, with the advent of the Internet, 24-hour cable TV, radio talk shows and countless bloggers who are keeping us on our toes, a free, unfettered press remains a cornerstone of our magnificent system of democratic self-government.

And while we don’t always do our job as well as we should, the system doesn’t work very well without a press unafraid of nipping at the heels of — and occasionally taking a big bite out of — those officials and bureaucrats to whom the people have handed the power to govern. That’s why the current legal battle over protecting confidential sources is so important.

Looking back over the past 11 years, I realize how much official Washington has changed as well. Six weeks after we began publication, Republicans, led by Newt Gingrich, won control of Congress for the first time in four decades, and in 2000 they took over the executive branch as well. As a result, we’ve seen fundamental change in many domestic programs dating back to the New Deal and in our foreign-policy stance since Cold War years.

You can read some of my reflections about those changes elsewhere in Wednesday's issue of The Hill. Meanwhile, I bid everybody a fond farewell.