You may not know Glenn McNatt’s name, but if you read The Sun’s editorial page, you know his work. He served as an editorial writer for most of his 33 years at the paper, and like all good editorialists, he wrote passionately about an odd mish-mash of subjects: criminal justice reform, international affairs, infant mortality, early childhood education, outer space, the arts. If you’ve ever read an editorial about Baltimore’s tree canopy, that was conceived and composed by Glenn.
Of course, none of those pieces bore his name, as is the way of newspaper staff editorials. Such writing is meant to convey the newspaper’s institutional opinion, not an individual’s perspective, and so from a reader’s point of view, the actual author isn’t so much anonymous as irrelevant. But for those of us who worked with him, we know how Glenn’s personal perspective helped shape the paper’s; his voice and his humanity were invaluable and irreplaceable.
Ill health forced a lengthy absence in late 2016 and, after a brief return to the paper, his retirement early this year. In June 29, he finally succumbed in his long battle with cancer. He was 69.
Editorial writing is something that a lot of journalists don’t understand (many are actually uncomfortable with it and its flagrant flouting of objectivity), but Glenn certainly did. He had a strong sense of right and wrong that he brought to bear on The Sun’s behalf on everything from the death penalty to the kid who got suspended from school for nibbling a breakfast pastry into the shape of a gun. He was a persistent champion of causes he believed in — notably: Baltimore’s arts scene and its ability to uplift, to connect and to build community. He was a skilled journalist who didn’t let officials get away with half answers to the big questions. And most of all, he was a generous collaborator who helped make sure our work was better than any one of us could have produced alone.
Glenn was our department’s catalyst. He opened our daily morning meetings with pitches for editorials that he had scribbled onto stray scraps of paper. He covered the big stuff — whatever the president or Congress were doing, war in Syria, North Korean nuclear weapons, the doings in City Hall or the State House — but also stories that were far from obvious candidates for editorials. He wouldn’t hesitate to toss out proposals the rest of us might have quickly rejected as classic two-handed editorials (“On the one hand, on the other hand...”) or as suffering from clear third-paragraph problems. (As in, “OK, what the mayor did was bad and shouldn’t happen again, but what’s your third paragraph?”) He took the ideas the rest of us might have stomped out halfway across our brains and forced us to give them a real look. Some of the best things we published came from those pitches that at first glance seemed the least likely to work.
Whether Glenn took the lead on writing a particular editorial or simply helped shape it during our deliberations, it was difficult to tell where his ideas ended and someone else’s began. There was no ego in his work, only a desire to make sure that what we produced collectively was the best it could possibly be. Even as he underwent punishing chemotherapy, he remained determined to get back to work, not for his own sake but because he felt like he had left the rest of us in the lurch.
But in the years he worked on The Sun’s editorial board, Glenn could not have given us more of himself. He leaves a lasting legacy, not just in the minds he changed with his editorials but in what he taught us about melding our disparate ideas and perspectives into one clear voice. We will miss him terribly but remain forever grateful for our chance to work by his side.
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