The story will continue, but somebody else will have to tell it

The French say Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose: "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

You'll still be seeing my melon-headed mug around Howard County, but not in this space anymore. Next week is my last with this newspaper, which has been home for most of my professional life.

Since I first came here as a reporter in 1988, the news business and life in general have changed dramatically with the advent of various digital technologies. However, the conflicts and concerns this publication reports on remain essentially the same — commercial and residential development and their effects on traffic and infrastructure, school crowding, the "achievement gap" between ethnic groups as measured by standardized tests, crime and punishment, government action and inaction.

In my first days on the job here, I got a little taste of covering the big names normally found in the realm of the big boys at the Washington Post and New York Times. My very first day I covered a gathering of Howard County Republicans who heard Alan Keyes speak. Keyes was a noted black conservative who in 1988 ran for president. Whatever happened to him?

Soon after that I covered an appearance by Ralph Nader, still probably the most famous person I've ever met. It was also a fateful assignment in that it introduced me to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Howard County (now the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia), where Nader spoke. It has been spiritual home to me, my wife and daughters ever since.

For the most part, though, this experience has been about local figures and happenings, not national ones. And while every young reporter dreams of hitting the big time and covering the heavy hitters of politics and culture, I would not, in retrospect, have had it any other way. Even the most self-aggrandizing local politicians (I'm not naming names; I still live here) are relatively real people, and my work as a local journalist has put me in contact with countless people who in ways large and small shape my community. Their stories are our stories as Howard Countians.

My job here also gave me the privilege of working alongside writers, editors, photographers and page designers who could do top-notch journalism — local, state, national or international — with the best of them, colleagues whose first allegiance, nonetheless, is to each other as people.

As to my next step, I'm exploring several options, mostly in the nonprofit realm, but have not yet landed on anything. And like any other ink-stained wretch, I'm sure I've got a book in me.

But even though I am a soon-to-be-former journalist, I still have a direct stake in the uncertain future of journalism. So do you.

Demand the best effort of those charged with keeping the public informed — whether at the local or national level — even when you despair of getting it. That's one of the best things we can do as citizens, and a lot more essential to being an American than flying a flag or tying a ribbon.

By the same token, it's also important that we remember that rank-and-file reporters and editors are, for the most part, doing the best they can in a rapidly shifting environment. With that in mind, I wish the colleagues I leave behind the best of luck.

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