Paul Wellman (file)
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
After nearly five years working as a reporter at the Santa Barbara Independent, I am moving across the country to pursue a reporting opportunity in Washington, D.C.
It feels bittersweet.
For so many years my identity has been tied to the Independent. When I told people I worked at the paper, they were always interested. “You have the best job in town,” one person said to me. I agreed and promised myself I would never take it for granted. People pay me to write, as another put it, and that is pretty cool.
Now, I feel sad to leave the people I met in this community but excited to take on new challenges and to be surrounded by politics and news 24/7. I am joining a team of reporters covering climate and other environmental issues at E&E News.
I grew up in Redondo Beach with parents who consumed a ton of news. Weeknights revolved around the NBC Nightly News. The 6:18 p.m. weather forecast was always predictable — 70 and sunny.
I really grew up, though, in Santa Barbara. When I got to UCSB in 2009, I was immediately overwhelmed by the natural beauty here — the teal ocean, the purple mountains, the evergreen stone pines. On campus and in Isla Vista I learned how to drink sweet rum and ride a skateboard and also how to spend hours locked in the library and actually enjoy it.
During those years, a couple people played an instrumental role in my early journalism career: The late Noel Greenwood, a longtime senior editor at the Los Angeles Times, who was kind enough to spend time polishing my college papers. And Cissy Ross, a longtime Santa Barbara News-Press reporter turned UCSB writing professor. She was sharp, funny, and perceptive and continues to teach me.
Two weeks after I graduated, I was very fortunate to land a job as a reporter at the Independent. I had spent my senior year writing a column about international students flocking to Santa Barbara. I loved interviewing young people from around the world and spent more time agonizing over writing the columns than I did on my senior thesis. That agony paid off.
My first day at the paper began with Nick Welsh, the executive editor, rattling off a list of 12 people I needed to call for six different stories he wanted me to chase down. Sitting in my desk chair in an outfit way too formal for the Figueroa Indy offices, I scribbled everything down in a leather-bound notebook. I soon learned everyone wore plaid and the cheap reporter’s notebooks were in the copy room.
One of those first assignments was about a slight rental increase at the Louis Lowry Center. Like a good cub reporter I spent way too much time hassling the city’s parks staff. Nick must have been amused.
In my first hour at the paper I learned a lot from Nick Welsh: Talk to a lot of people, write everything down, harass people (probably not more than once an hour, he said with a straight face), read everything, and be curious.
Over the years he repeated this advice, even when I assured him that I got it. He and my other editors and colleagues helped me learn to love journalism and to appreciate Santa Barbara. I’ll never forget the time Marianne Partridge spent with me in her office, editing feature stories for hours. Tyler Hayden helped me make sense of stories that were too huge in my mind. Jean Yamamura showed me how to be a good researcher. Paul Wellman has such a big heart that people can see and love to talk to him. Matt Kettmann taught me to be efficient and was the one who gave me a shot at being a journalist.
Outside of the Independent, veteran and esteemed journalist Jerry Roberts taught me to be tough. He invited me to be on his TV news commentary show Newsmakers, which was a lot of fun even though I was the butt of several jokes about millennials.
On the business side, Joe Cole, Sarah Sinclair, and my good friend Brandi Rivera provided great support for local journalists.
And the people I hassled for information week in and week out were (usually) gracious and generous with their time.
Santa Barbara will always feel like home. I will bring everything I’ve learned about journalism to one of the important stories of our time: the changing climate of our earth.