Last week our newsroom said farewell to a longtime and well-known Bee journalist, Bob Shallit, who is retiring.
Bob was one of my first editors at The Bee, and I'd like to take credit for talking him into writing the business column you've read for many years. Those who read him were well-informed about all kinds of local issues, and entertained to boot.
While he won't be writing his column anymore (former business editor Cathie Anderson takes over this week), Bob does plan to freelance for us starting next year. Until then, I figured we could get our last Shallit fix for 2012 in a Q&A about his career. We'll start the questions close to the beginning, when he moved to The Bee.
You moved to Sacramento from Alaska, where you worked for the McClatchy paper in Anchorage. What was the biggest difference – besides sunlight and temperature – between the two cities?
Well, the biggest, and most shocking, similarity was that Cal Worthington ("Go see Cal!") was all over TV in both cities. Who would have thought that act could exist outside Alaska?
But seriously, moving back to Northern California, where I grew up, was like returning home after a three-year stint as a foreign correspondent. Alaska was an amazing place but almost Third World-like in its rural poverty and isolation, with much of the state dotted with "native Alaska" communities where indoor plumbing was a luxury.
Over the past 30 years you've covered many stories. Which did you find the most rewarding?
I'm proudest, I think, of the series I did with (former Bee columnist and editor) Jack Sirard on investment fraud in California. As part of the reporting I traveled to Orange County and got a job for a day in a boiler room, where sales people made call after cold call, pitching questionable and downright fraudulent investment "opportunities" to naive investors.
One thing I won't forget is nervously walking out of the sales office that day, with all the misleading sales scripts in my pocket, right past a tough-looking supervisor who had a handgun holstered prominently at his waist.
Which were the most fun?
The columns were all fun. What I loved most was reporting big local deals – real estate transactions, store expansions, downtown development projects, start-up financings – well before the principals were ready to disclose them.
I also had a lot of fun with the annual prediction columns I've heard from many readers that they enjoyed tracking how often I was on the mark and, as was more often the case, how often my projections crashed and burned.
You are retiring as newspapers and journalism still are going through the biggest evolution in our lifetimes because of technology and changing reader habits. What has it felt like to be part of that at the end of your career?
I'm optimistic that news organizations like The Bee will survive and thrive, simply because they're providing the detailed reporting and analysis unavailable anywhere else. But it's been tough watching this paper and others lose so many great reporters and editors as they've cut back over the past few years. And I'm troubled by the increasing political polarization in our society, which I think is at least partly the result of fewer people reading newspapers and instead turning to alternative media outlets that just confirm their own biases.
I imagine you're recognized all over town since your picture has been published three times a week in the paper. Do you feel like a local celebrity? Will you miss that?
Yes, I can't lie. It's very cool to walk into a restaurant or go to a Kings game and be recognized and approached by strangers. Most people come up and say they like the column. Sometimes they offer tips. And, this is absolutely true, a couple of people in recent years have been kind enough to point out that I look older in person than I do in the picture. Thank you very much.
What is the one thing you are most looking forward to in retirement?
This is easy. No deadlines.