Touching down on a familiar runway

pease herald cover2I started writing this column 24 years ago.

And today I am feeling thankful that it is not quite finished.

It was late 1988 when I first set foot in the Portsmouth Herald newsroom.

The Internet did not yet exist.

On one of my first assignments I got sent out to Pease, which was then a United States Air Force base.

Everyone knew that Pease – a vibrant part of the Seacoast community since the 1950s and a vital cog in the economy – was NOT on the list of bases to be closed.

Everyone was wrong. And the news hit like a B-47 bombshell.

The Air Force base is long gone.

It is still home to the N.H. Air National Guard’s 157th Air Refueling Wing. And after two decades of retooling things it is also the site of a high-tech haven, a community college, an awesome brewery and a large pink building filled with computers and people and printing presses.

That’s where we make the Portsmouth Herald now.

The story of the Seacoast is reflected in these pages (and now on that Internet thing too), painstakingly published by a too-small staff that works extra, extra hard so you can hold the Herald in your hands.

Some days you may love it, hate it, critique it, debate it – but it’ll be there, covering our region in words and pictures, on old-fashioned newsprint, newfangled computers and now even on your phone.

And while we are certainly subject to humane error, we bring humanity and passion to the job every day. And then do it all again tomorrow.

Nowadays, all this unfolds 24/7 in a wild nonstop media world gone haywire – with the “news cycle” ever revving, like a high-octane Harley.

The technological evolution of news means we don’t wait until tomorrow to inform you about the fire or the gas main leak that has shut down a street.

In the world of Facebook and Twitter and other social media, word now travels at the speed of a meteor.

In 1988, many people wouldn’t learn about Pease closing until the day after the stunning announcement. But nowadays our deadline is real time.

Yes, I know I said “humane” error a couple of lines back. It was an intentional typo – because I’ve always believed in bringing a sense of humor to the task of chronicling our local corner of the world.

I started covering the Seacoast in 1984 for my hometown York Weekly (memorable assignments included climbing to the top of Nubble Light and interviewing the last Coast Guard lighthouse keeper and his wife before the iconic beacon was automated).

I pressed on to the Herald, left in ’92 to edit a paper in Cambridge, came back from 1998 to’04 and then left once more.

Along the way I’ve interviewed soldiers and fishermen, Olympic athletes and presidential candidates, truck drivers and writers, cops and alleged robbers – even a human cannonball.

And now I am privileged once again – fresh off a seven-year hitch at the Boston Herald – to be stationed at the newspaper that covers the community I love.

Right here at Pease where the base once stood. Here where 21 years ago it was my job to write about the midnight flag-lowering ceremony in which base commander Col. Harry Mandros officially closed down what he called a “ghost town.”

Right here, thrilled and grateful that my new post is so close to those ghosts of Seacoast past.

— John Breneman



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