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LIVINGSTON: Breaking up with journalism


Growing up, I always wanted to be a professional baseball player. Being a sports writer was the next best thing.

For the last 11 years, I have been lucky enough to do my dream job for the Farmington Daily Times and The Durango Herald. It has been the greatest honor of my life to follow the careers of athletes in the Four Corners – to be there for the triumphs and failures, to build relationships with athletes, coaches and parents and to deliver their stories to a truly special audience of readers.

It’s been a great ride, but I have reached the end of this trail. It is time to resign my post as sports editor of The Durango Herald and pursue new adventures within this town I hope to continue to call home the rest of my life.

With the birth of my first son, Jax, now only days away, I am ready to prioritize the growth and accomplishments of my own family ahead of the feats of others.

Still, this was the job I wanted to do the rest of my life. I turned down opportunities at other media outlets that would have advanced my career toward covering the highest level of college and professional sports. I remained in Durango because I had editors who fought to keep me around paired with my love for this town and the job. But for the last few years, it hasn’t loved me back.

Anyone who has driven through downtown in recent months has noticed the massive renovation project underway at The Herald building that will cut the newsroom in half and create space for other businesses to lease. But the real downsizing of the newsroom has been going on for years.

Because of all the cuts, I no longer have the ability to live up to the standards I set during my early days at The Daily Times, standards that were only elevated when I arrived at The Herald in 2014 and was surrounded by a vibrant newsroom full of incredible journalists who opened my eyes and fostered my intense love for the profession.

Despite the staff reductions at The Herald, not unlike those seen at print – and digital – media companies across the globe, I have worked tirelessly to do the job the way I feel it is supposed to be done, even after the sports staff was cut from three to two in 2016, and again when it was reduced to one in March of 2020.

I doubled and tripled down on my commitment and refused to lower the bar after each of those cuts. I wanted today’s athletes to get the same coverage as their older brother or sister before them, for the next generation of elite cyclists to get the recognition the world and national champions of this town before them received. I wanted the readers to pick up the paper on Saturday morning and see a full story on every football or basketball game the night before.

On top of added daily duties, I frequently spent scheduled days off covering our athletes and their ever-growing list of accomplishments. Often, those were some of the best stories to write. But it became a burden on friends and family each time I broke out the laptop to write another story or conduct another interview.

The expectation of continually doing more with less is not attainable. Burnout is rampant, and there is a greater emphasis on page views and story counts than quality journalism. I will always fight for the latter.

Mentally and physically, I do not think I can do it anymore. So instead of lowering the standards or continuing to allow the job to take priority over my personal relationships, I am walking away. And I can leave knowing I tried every day to be the best I could.

If this reads like a breakup letter, it’s because it feels like the end of a difficult but beautiful long-term relationship that is hard to move on from. Together, we’ve made great memories, and I have met people I hope to be friends with the rest of my life.

Sports editor John Livingston interviews Durango’s Sepp Kuss after the 2017 Iron Horse Bicycle Classic in Silverton. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The successes of our athletes and coaches have allowed me to compose award-winning stories.

Since 2014, I have won more than 40 awards in everything from sports news, feature and column writing, enterprise reporting, breaking news, beat writing and even podcasting. Some of those awards stand out above the rest, even those that aren’t for first place.

There was a third-place breaking news award from 2019 when the Hardrock 100 ultramarathon was canceled. I got the news as I had put my mother, who weeks earlier had been diagnosed with Stage IV brain cancer, into the shower. Between taking calls, writing and helping her get shampoo in her thinning hair, the full story was online before I could get her wrapped in a towel.

That same year, there was one of many first-place column writing awards, this time for my personal tale of what Colorado Rockies baseball had meant to my family during our darkest days, including after my mother’s diagnosis. I was embarrassed to share a personal story, but it was a cathartic process. I was overwhelmed with your positive responses. This community has a special way of supporting each other during tough times, and it is a big part of what has endeared me to it.

Last year, I brought home 10 awards going against newsrooms with twice the staff – and three or four times the amount of sports writers. For a year, countless people asked, “What are you writing about with no sports happening during COVID?” Without the regular schedule of college and high school games, it was a challenge to come up with a local story – or two or three – every day for six months until school sports resumed. But thanks to the never-ending pursuit of greatness by athletes in this town, I found plenty to write about. And while adjusting to a one-person sports desk, it was the busiest year of my career. The 10 awards for that year of work are something I will cherish forever.

Sports editor John Livingston interviews Howard Grotts during the a Iron Horse Bicycle Classic. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Of course, there are some awards I would rather have never won. I wish I never would have had to write about the death of cyclist Benjamin Sonntag. But in the days after he was struck down by a motorist while out for a training ride, I was honored to put together a package of stories and news pages in his memory, and I will be forever grateful to everyone who reached out to share their words about our lost friend.

I want to thank the cycling community for opening its arms and accepting a chubby guy who can’t afford a mountain bike into your prestigious inner circle. No group of people have meant more and helped keep me going during my time here than the athletes who ride bikes for a living. I will “Never Forget the Feeling” of writing your stories, and I hope Chad Cheeney, Sepp Kuss, Sarah Sturm, Christopher Blevins and Riley Amos are around to teach my son to ride a bike when he joins Durango Devo. I hope Howard Grotts is his high school math teacher.

Thanks goes to every Fort Lewis College athlete who I have watched pour their soul onto the field or court to pursue the sport they love. To men’s basketball coach Bob Pietrack for bringing me inside the world of NCAA Division II men’s basketball and letting me get close to the team, especially during the 2018 conference championship run. There is magic inside Whalen Gymnasium, and I will now take a seat alongside the loyal fans at games to cheer on the team. Hawks will always fly together.

Sports editor John Livingston looks on at a Fort Lewis College basketball game, seated next to FLC men’s head coach Bob Pietrack. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Thank you to the coaches and players of Bayfield, Durango and Ignacio high schools. To the 2017 Bayfield football state championship team that allowed me to be there for every thrilling moment. To the 2020 Durango Demons football team full of players who weren’t even sure they would get to play another high school football game when the pandemic postponed the fall season shortly before their historic title run. I hope Jordan Woolverton teaches my son how to throw a football.

Most of all, thanks goes out to those who have made this silly little career possible. To all of the sports reporters I have ever worked with: Joshua Perry, Kyle Grabowski, Joe Fries, Jon Mentzer, Karl Schneider, Brendan Ploen and Joel Priest. Your hard work and support of my vision means more to me than you’ll ever know.

To the best photographer a sports guy could ever ask for, Jerry McBride, thank you for sacrificing your nights and weekends to be at all the games and for providing athletes unforgettable moments captured in time. You’ve been the biggest supporter of my work, and above all else, you are a great friend.

Durango Herald sports editor John Livingston interviews Durango quarterback Jordan Woolverton after the 2020 Class 3A state championship game in Pueblo. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Thank you to Katie Chicklinski-Cahill for being the positive light in the newsroom since the day I walked in. To David Buck for being a guiding force who kept everything on track and made sure a paper came out every day during times when it would have been easier to walk away. To Mark Borgard for putting up with my attitude and helping make my words and the photos look good for so many years in the print paper.

Thank you to Durango legend Ann Butler for passing on your deep knowledge of this town and helping me through the early years. And thanks goes to Unterreiner for bringing me to Durango and helping develop my writing and eye for detail, though I will never be as good at writing a headline as you.

Newsrooms can be the best place to work when you have a good managing editor and the worst when you don’t. Thank you to Chris Roberts for our year together in Farmington and for showing me what it is like to work in a newsroom with a great editor. To Amy Maestas for believing in me enough to let me take over the sports editor role and for letting me run with every wild idea I had. And thank you for convincing me to stay when other opportunities came calling.

Thank you to Sue McMillan for reminding me a reporter can always get better and that the best sports writing is something that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether they are a sports fan or not.

And thank you to Mr. Richard Ballantine. He won’t remember, but we first met during a Colorado Press Association job fair in Denver in 2010. I was a raw kid from the University of Colorado, and I left our first introduction a bit intimidated by him. I walked away from his table thinking I would never work at The Durango Herald. I am sure glad I did.

Lastly, thank you to the readers. Your criticism and support both have been appreciated through the years. You made me better, and you make this town home.

I hope to remain active in our sports community in various ways. I will continue my role with the Durango Athletic Hall of Fame. I hope to have the opportunity to give my time to organizations such as the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic and Hardrock 100, if they will have me. You may hear my voice on the radio from time to time, and you will certainly see me at games or at the finish line of bike races.

Who knows, you might read my byline again someday, if you know where to look.

As always, thank you for reading.

John Livingston was the regional sports editor of The Durango Herald. You can no longer reach him at jlivingston@durangoherald.com. You may still follow him on Twitter and Instagram, @jlivi2.

Durango Herald sports editor John Livingston awards the Vallecito Bowl trophy to Durango High School football players after the Demons beat Bayfield in 2018. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
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