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Since Voice of San Diego co-founder Neil Morgan’s passing this weekend, we’ve explored and celebrated his life a few ways:
• Our obituary for Morgan gives a thorough look at his career, and what it meant to our city: “He felt that this city and region had honored him abundantly over so many years,” his wife, Judith, wrote in an email to our staff. “He loved San Diego and San Diegans very much — even when nagging us to do better, fly straighter, rise higher.”
• CEO Scott Lewis described the unrivaled enthusiasm Morgan brought to every aspect of newsgathering.
• We created this easy-to-follow timeline, which tracks Morgan’s move from North Carolina to begin his career out west. He arrived in the 1940s and worked his way through the San Diego Daily Journal, Evening Tribune, San Diego Union and the merged Union-Tribune before getting fired. He then founded Voice of San Diego in 2005 with friend and entrepreneur Buzz Woolley, looking to give San Diegans a trustworthy and reliable source of news.
• Former VOSD editor Andrew Donohue wrote this tribute to the man who pushed reporters to confront the city’s darker side.
• In October, we established the Neil Morgan Fund for Investigative Reporting to honor his journalistic priorities and integrity.
But talking about Morgan’s career can only say so much about the impact his work had in our community. It’s probably best to let his words do the talking.
Read some of the excerpts below, gathered from his years in newsrooms and beyond.
On his father
Commentary aired by National Public Radio on Father’s Day, 2005 (Morgan’s father was a Southern minister who played a role in the civil rights movement):
In his robust 90s, a letter in the Raleigh paper asked: “Can no one silence this old man?” No one ever did…
[Morgan’s father spoke at a funeral for four sisters who died.] He started writing his sermon for the funeral. I saw him on his knees in his study, praying with Bibles at his side in Hebrew and Greek and Latin, seeking words that might reassure both him and his people of a loving God. Headlines brought thousands to the funeral, blocking the dirt streets of little Creedmoor. Beside a wide grave with its four caskets, Father began bravely, “Faith and reason cannot always be reconciled.” And then he tried to make his case to preserve his people’s faith in the wake of a terrible act of God.
On the uniqueness of San Diego
Westward Tilt, published in 1963:
San Diego exhibits many of the characteristics of the Southern California region: in a way it is more typical of Southern California than is Los Angeles…
Unbelievably, in the wake of such explosive growth, San Diego has remained a pleasant and leisurely city. It glistens under a flood of sunlight, and the toasted browns of its canyons and mesas form mountings for pampered green lawns, burnt-red tile roofs and pastel stuccos… [it] presents the image of a town of unpretentious Midwestern tastes, now sprawling outward and shooting skyward into the shape of a city.”
On the less-serious side of San Diego
Evening Tribune, Dec. 31, 1990 (excerpts from a compilation of his favorite items of the year):
ONKED OUT: On trial in Vista for drunken driving, a defendant tried to explain why he left out the letter Z when he recited the alphabet for police: “It’s not a very important letter. I never use Z.” Deputy DA George McFetridge was nearby: “You never go to the oo to look at the ebras?”
THE NAMES: UC Regent Clair Burgener locked himself out of his car before a breakfast meeting and told his wife, Marvia, that it was because of early senility. “No,” she soothed him. “It’s just about time.”…In a divorce interrogatory that asked whether she had any sporting equipment valued at over $50, Atty. Joseph Vrbancic’s client answered this way: “No, unless you count my lingerie.”
OUR TOWN: It’s in the record books now. San Diego has grown so fast that it has surpassed official projections made by the city in 1979 for the year 1995.
LAST WORD: Dorothy DeBolt, the El Cajon mother of 20 children — including 14 adopted — has the final word in the debate on when life begins: “When the last kid moves out and takes the dog with him.”
The California Syndrome, published in 1969:
California is still so young, so belligerent, and has so much to learn, that one may shudder at the thought that the state is a window on the future or that California’s today may be America’s tomorrow. Its rapid growth and vigor are not goals but symptoms. In dedication and direction, California flounders like America, and with its flair for overstatement, its lack of purpose can be monolithic. Yet Californians have seemed capable of almost anything. These unusual people in this extraordinary place come equipped with vitality and with dreams. In California it is not yet too late.
Book review, The Journal of San Diego History, 1973:
In a closet off my study is a two-foot stack of California issues of magazines both living and dead, for some of which I share blame. The hysteria to make journalistic snapshots of the American future in California peaked in the 1960s. Teams from Life and Look took turns racing about the state buttoning down their pet behaviorists, their pioneer industrialists, their golden youth, their free lovers, their seers of the new age.
It was not their fault that the stuff reads so poorly today. That is the risk of the trade, and that is why historians yield the recent generations and their times to journalists.
On the business of newspapering
Evening Tribune, Feb. 1, 1992, its final edition:
The Tribune has sought to be unmatched in chronicling the San Diego community. Its staff has smiled and scoffed at their editor’s exhortations to make it “America’s most sophisticated country daily.” But they remember the phrase, and what it implies about a people-oriented, caring style of newspapering.
New reporters have been taught that their highest calling is helping to create a sense of community tolerance and understanding in a city that has grown too fast to recognize itself. To do that means providing an accurate and insightful image each day of what San Diego was that day, and also what it might become.
Those goals, pursued in varied styles, remain goals of these reporters and editors as they become members of a new newspaper staff. The feisty spirit and savvy of the Tribune will be there tomorrow in the new Union-Tribune.
On 21st century San Diego politics
Voice of San Diego, Nov. 17, 2006:
Many of our bedraggled civic needs could be served if we did what many lesser cities have managed to do: Get together more often to discuss civic affairs, listen carefully to each other, judge merits and the route to success and compromise.
But we San Diego voters can be a selfish and distracted crowd with narrow views focusing on our own partisan interests, not how those interests might become part of the larger civic interest. Islands of civic interest have built their own gimme-gimme lobbies at City Hall, effectively postponing regional negotiations on issues that can be solved at no other level.
Voice of San Diego, April 16, 2007:
We San Diegans often seek ways to excuse ourselves for refusing to behave like the other kids. It’s a pleasant game — the indulgence of forgiving ourselves because we are a 21st century city, inhabiting the edgy worlds of high-tech and higher-education.
Yet San Diego is also a soft-hearted, informal, Midwestern kind of town. The heart of San Diego still bounces around at the beach, not yet quite ready to commit for the future, nor to settle down for life.
So the longer we seek to explain the sudden thrusts and mood swings of this diverse and laidback city, the more difficult the task. It’s awkward because most of us seem to like the way things are in San Diego. And most of us are old enough to feel a little spoiled. Is our city still at the awkward civic age of making excuses for our mistakes and then forgiving ourselves?
This easy mood has long been in style for our laidback city. It may continue for a long time, at least until the tax rate soars to pay off our mindlessness in the pension scandals. That’s when the world had a glimpse of us as the rubes that we insist we are not.