Colleague’s legacy one of integrity, fairness, accuracy

At the Walla Walla County Clerk’s Office, Union-Bulletin reporter Terry McConn, right, shares a laugh with county Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle, left, and U-B reporter Tony Buhr. Terry is familiarizing replacement Tony on his duties. Terry retires on Friday, capping a 30-year career at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Chief Clerk Kathy Martin said her staff enjoyed the cookies Terry brought at Christmastime.

Traversing a 0.4- to 0.5-mile route on weekdays from the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin to the Walla Walla County Courthouse and back is coming to a close for reporter Terry McConn. Set to retire on Sept. 8 after 30 years and six days on the job, Terry estimates he’s walked between 9,000 and 10,000 miles in round trips during that time frame.

He joined the U-B on Sept. 2, 1987, reporting primarily on emergency services, courts, county commissioners and the Washington State Penitentiary beats.

Reporting beats undergo change over the years. But the one constant for Terry — first at KTEL radio here for 10 years and then at the U-B — has been coverage of Walla Walla County Superior Court and currently gathering information there to help with initial arrest and crime stories.

Terry, who celebrated his 65th birthday in August, moved to Walla Walla at age 7 in late 1959 with his parents. He graduated from Walla Walla High School in 1970 and earned a dramatic arts degree in 1974 from Whitman College.

From June 1974 to fall 1975, he attended a professional acting school in San Francisco. Following a childhood passion, he decided to go into broadcasting and attended a broadcast school in San Francisco.

Back in Walla Walla in 1976 he was office manager for the second year of the outdoor drama “Trails West.” Then in early September 1977, he became news director at KTEL and for 10 years honed his journalism skills while reporting on all local beats including crime, courts, city council, school board, county commissioners, the penitentiary and anything else that came up.

Some will remember in the early 1980s when he also anchored a weekday companion television news program on cable’s local access channel for a couple of years.

U-B Editorial Page Editor Rick Eskil met Terry in 1980 when Rick joined our team as a reporter. Terry was a rival who “soon became a friend, but we remained competitors until he joined the U-B staff about seven years later. The competition made me a better reporter,” Rick said.

“Terry is a great newsman who always gets it right. His attention to detail is incredible. I am certain of few things in life, but when Terry McConn reports it — you can be sure it’s accurate.”

I’ve worked with Terry throughout his tenure here and have appreciated his humor and deep interest and knowledge in the community fabric, both currently and historically.

He is the embodiment of what he says he believes: that “a good reporter should seek the truth by striving to demonstrate and improve on four essential qualities every day. If I have been able to generate respect by building a reputation of being honest, trustworthy, accurate and fair — with humility and good nature thrown in — I will consider it to have been a successful career.”

 Columbia Journalism Review recently interviewed several of us on the news staff for a video on the future of small town newspapers. Terry said, “Journalism is an honorable profession and this is an honorable company to work for.” He told me the U-B gave him challenging and rewarding opportunities.

“I am grateful for the help, encouragement and support of my colleagues and the community, and for the people who graciously provided me information all these years. My successor, Tony Buhr, will continue to provide readers with stories they want and need.”

Terry covered criminal cases from first appearances to occasional trials and as such he often interviewed judges and attorneys for his stories.

Retired Walla Walla County Superior Court judge Robert L. Zagelow wrote that his initial concerns about fairness, accuracy and a “hostile press” were completely allayed.

Having been forewarned, Judge Zagelow said he started out with a negative assumption. “That is, on the eve of serving as Superior Court judge, I was cautioned that I would be best served by avoiding reporters as much as possible — to do otherwise would risk being misquoted, or even worse, skewered by a hostile press.”

“My working relationship with Terry for more than a decade proved those concerns to be unfounded. Having followed literally hundreds of articles about cases in my court, if there were ever any errors, I didn’t catch them. Nor was there ever any editorializing. From my perspective, Terry was the epitome of a professional journalist — thorough, accurate, fair and not overreaching. His shoes will be hard to fill.”

Among highlights of Terry’s career are participating in many in-depth projects, covering many trials, witnessing three executions and reporting for a week from a cell inside the Washington State Penitentiary in 1996.

Former penitentiary superintendent Tana Wood gave Terry permission to live as an inmate for his series, “Life on the Hill.”

“He was responsible for the most potentially career-shortening decision I ever made — ‘Life on the Hill.’ Not everyone could have pulled it off and to be honest, if it had been anyone but Terry, I would have said no,” Tana emailed.

“To me, Terry was the embodiment of competent, responsible and professional journalism, a quality sadly missing in much of today’s media,” she said.

“I knew that any story he wrote regarding the Pen would be honest, thorough and not biased. It may not be favorable or something I wanted to see, but it would have been properly researched and factual. He trusted me to give him the straight story and that if I wasn’t at liberty to share certain things, he knew I would say so. I trusted him to be honest and fair. And let’s not lose sight of the fact that Terry is an outstanding writer and very smart,” she added.

She said they both were new to executions and in a sense learned some things together. “I was encouraged and empowered by his approach to the process ... his sensitivity to the subject as well as his professional demeanor.”

Among Tana’s most valued mementos is a framed picture of a prison tower signed by Terry and key U-B staffers and gifted to her in appreciation. “I have carefully kept it for 20-plus years now and it hangs in my office today,” Tana said.

We’re going to miss him,” said current Walla Walla County Superior Court Judge John Lohrmann. “He has always been valued and respected by the judges here, including (Yancey) Reser, (Donald W.) Schacht, (Robert) Zagelow, me and (Scott) Wolfram. He started when I did, in about 1977 — came on when Judge (James B.) Mitchell sat on the bench. Terry is in Kiwanis and we associated with Little League when our kids played. Terry is thoughtful and knowledgeable. He does his homework, is fair to the parties involved and respectful of the court. I will miss him in that role,” John said.

Retired U-B editor Rick Doyle added, “It isn’t often you find a reporter who is so well versed in his subject that his sources would often look to him as the expert. That’s the value Terry brought to U-B readers. That and his inordinate attention to detail and accuracy. I can’t remember the last time when there was need of a correction to one of Terry’s stories because of a factual inaccuracy. You could depend on him to get it right.

“He also was fearless in bringing the news to the readers. In covering beats that included law enforcement, the courts and the prison he would often have to deal with people who didn’t want their transgressions made public. He stood firm in his journalistic integrity and made sure the public was informed.

“If anyone doubts his bravery, they should go back and reread his project “Life on the Hill,” in which he brought to light what it is really like to be locked up in prison. His week behind bars was eye-opening. For this project and others, he received regional and national acclaim. While his position can be filled, he can never be replaced,” Rick Doyle said.

Over the years, Terry has imparted invaluable institutional wisdom to reporters joining the staff.

“When I came to the Union-Bulletin last year, I had no experience with daily papers. The whirlwind of emergency services coverage was completely foreign to me. Fortunately, I had a lifeline in the form of Terry McConn,” said reporter Andy Monserud.

“Back before the countdown toward his retirement started — though even then, he would often remind us that soon enough, he’d be free of typical newsroom teasing — Terry showed me the ropes and kept me afloat through those first few months of being a ‘real’ reporter. He’s a great reporter, a great co-worker and a great friend,” Andy said.

Tony Buhr, who joined the news staff just a week ago, added, “In the short time I have worked with Terry he has shown patience and consideration in his guidance of his beloved beat. Terry has a ton of institutional knowledge from his years in the Walla Walla County Courthouse. I have seen the lifelong relationships he has established with the members of the community and the respect they treat him with. I could not have a more gifted or knowledgeable tutor to assist me.”

“The U-B is losing an institutional memory, a newsroom sage and a journalist who is guided by his deeply held regard for ethics, accuracy and the pursuit of truth and fairness,” said Managing Editor Tom Skeen. “And I, personally, am losing a colleague who laughs at my twisted jokes, mumbled puns and headlines I wish I could write. Terry also has been my go-to source to learn where the best corn dogs in town can be found.”

Editor-Publisher Brian Hunt added, “Terry is a very good community journalist. His critical reporting over these many years has contributed substantially to an improved understanding of our criminal justice system and to a higher level of transparency and public accountability within our regional criminal justice system.

“Terry has also been a trusted resource for other reporters and editors in our newsroom, where he has made a significant impact far beyond his specific beat. His thoughtfulness, journalistic know-how and willingness to share has made all of us better, stronger community journalists.”

Terry and wife of 43 years Sherry, who retired in June from teaching at Wa-Hi, plan to travel, volunteer and spend more time with family and friends.  And there’s all that reading to catch up on, and movies and classic TV shows to watch.

Friends, colleagues, sources comment on

Terry McConn's impending retirement Sept. 8

Dan Aycock, Captain, WWPD, retired: It is my pleasure to acknowledge the long and illustrious career of Mr. Terry McConn.  Wow, only 30 years ago he started reporting the public safety information? It seems to me that he was doing it even much earlier than that. Perhaps it is also the 10 years with the radio that are getting mixed into my memory. I must say that as being one responsible for producing the documents for him to peruse over most of those years, I have to say he was a joy and a pleasure to work with. I never felt pushed by Terry to give out some little piece of information that we should not, but at the same time I was grateful at times when he pointed out some pieces of information that should have been included but were not. I think that most if not all the people that worked with me in the Communications center and Records office have always appreciated him as well. I know he worked very hard to ensure he had the information he was authorized to have and nothing else. He was a pleasure to work with all those years he walked into the office for the morning Press Board review. I wish him the very best retirement and look forward to seeing him around town to say “Hi” now and then. Have Fun Terry!

Capt. Terry Heisey, Walla Walla Police Department: From 1993-1998 I was assigned as the Detective Sergeant with the Walla Walla Police Department, with first-line supervision responsibilities over the investigative unit. During that time period Terry McConn was the UB reporter responsible for covering law enforcement related incidents; so we talked most every workday, and on some days multiple times. He would call seeking information/clarification on incidents the police department had responded to and/or investigated. While I had a great deal of respect for Terry and his professional integrity, there would be times when I preferred to withhold some details. Trying to ensure there wouldn’t be information published until later so as to preserve the integrity of the ongoing investigation. He had a knack for knowing when I wasn’t sharing all the information he was seeking. I knew when he would call me later in the day, as he inevitably would, that he’d been out doing his due diligence in seeking the information I hadn’t shared with him. Quite often he was able to piece together what had been missing in our earlier conversation. He worked his contacts the way a police  officer uses informants to gather information. I told him if he ever got tired of the newspaper business…….he had a career in law enforcement! Even though he might ferret out information I had originally wanted withheld until later; he always listened to the reasons why I didn’t want something published yet. Taking the reason into consideration when deciding whether or when the information would be made public. He strove to be timely in reporting news of interest, but didn’t let a publishing deadline over ride the need for accuracy in what he was reporting.

Jim Nagle, Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney:   In this day and age when the credibility of the press is under attack and subject to scrutiny, it has been refreshing to have Terry McConn report on Walla Walla County court cases. Terry has several qualities that set him above the average news reporter. His intellectual integrity and emotional honesty is reflected in his reporting. Terry recognizes the need to be true to one's own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. His articles have been detailed, accurate, unbiased and informative. A lot of what goes on in a case is not easy to sort out. He has the uncanny ability to take complex legal issues or facts and distill them down to a succinct, informative article, i.e., he can write a story the average person can read in a few minutes that makes sense. Terry drills down to the reasons the lawyers and judges make their decisions, and gets into their thought processes, their feelings about the cases, and the emotional impact decisions have on everyone. He is not afraid to persist in finding out why cases are resolved the way they are and conveying that information to the public. He has helped make the confusing cases understandable, and therefore make the court system more transparent. Terry has been watching and reporting on criminal cases for so long that he understands courtroom strategy and tactics, and he knows how Washington’s criminal sentencing statutes work better than most of the lawyers practicing criminal law. He will point out errors in sentences to the parties with the usual question, “Shouldn’t the sentence range be different based on the defendant’s criminal history, or am I missing something?” (No, Terry, everyone else is probably missing something.) And he has always endeavored to be polite. Terry understands the need to find out and report the facts, and understands when a person cannot, because of legal or emotional reasons, answer a reporter’s questions. Terry has been a fixture in the courthouse. I think he has really enjoyed reporting on cases. He has certainly set a standard for future reporters. I wish him all the best in his retirement.

 Andy Monserud, reporter: When I came to the Union-Bulletin last year, I had no experience with daily papers. The whirlwind of emergency services coverage was completely foreign to me. Fortunately, I had a lifeline in the form of Terry McConn. Back before the countdown toward his retirement started-- though even then, he would often remind us that soon enough, he'd be free of the newsroom's frequent gibes at him-- Terry showed me the ropes and kept me afloat through those first few months of being a "real" reporter. He's a great reporter, a great coworker and a great friend. 

 Brian Hunt, Editor & Publisher:  Terry is a very good community journalist. His critical reporting over these many years on crime and justice have contributed substantially to an improved understanding of our criminal justice system and to a higher level of transparency and public accountability within our regional criminal justice system. Terry has also been a trusted resource for other reporters and editors in our newsroom, where he has made an significant impact far beyond his specific beat. His thoughtfulness, journalistic know-how and willingness to share has made all of us better, stronger community journalists.

Tom Skeen, managing editor:  The U-B is losing an institutional memory, a newsroom sage and a journalist who is guided by his deeply held regard for ethics, accuracy and the pursuit of truth and fairness. And I, personally, am losing a colleague who laughs at my twisted jokes, mumbled puns and headlines I wish I could write. Terry also has been my go-to source to learn where the best corn dogs in town can be found.

Andy Porter, reporter: Speaking from the perspective of someone who has been here 17 years, Terry's retirement is going to leave a really big hole in our newsroom that's going to be tough, if not impossible, to fill. His experience and insight at covering courts, police and many other beats are going to be sorely missed.

Rick Eskil, editorial page editor: I met Terry in 1980 when I began work as a reporter at the U-B. He was a competitor who worked for KTEL radio. He soon became a friend, but we remained competitors until he joined the U-B staff about seven years later. The competition made me a better reporter. Terry is a great newsman who  always gets it right. His attention to detail is incredible. I am certain of few things in life, but when Terry McConn reports it — you can be sure it's accurate.

Rick Doyle, former managing editor: It isn’t often you find a reporter who is so well versed in his subject that his sources would often look to him as the expert. That’s the value Terry brought to U-B readers. That and his inordinate attention to detail and accuracy. I can’t remember the last time when there was need of a correction to one of Terry’s stories because of a factual inaccuracy. You could depend on him to get it right. He also was fearless in bringing the news to the readers. In covering beats that included law enforcement, the courts and the prison he would often have to deal with people who didn’t want their transgressions made public. He stood firm in his journalistic integrity and made sure the public was informed. If anyone doubts his bravery, they should go back and reread his project: Life On The Hill in which he brought to light what it is really like to be locked up in prison. His week behind bars was eye-opening. For this project and others, he received regional and national acclaim. While his position can be filled, he can never be replaced.

Annie Charnley Eveland, Marquee and copy editor and columnist: I've appreciated Terry's humor and ability to work well with our staff. He has a deep knowledge of the community from a historical perspective and has been a great source as such for projects on which I've worked. He's a great sounding board for story ideas and an effective mentor, role model and leader for colleagues.

Karlene Ponti, special publications: Terry has been a great colleague, very much a professional and always willing to help others in the newsroom when needed. His practical, grounded approach with a sense of humor has added a great deal to the whole operation. We're going to miss you, Terry!

Kathy Martin, WW County Chief Clerk and staff: I have worked with Terry McConn 38 years and it has been a great pleasure to work with him. He always was matter of fact and wanted the scoop asap! We had to call him as soon as a case was filed. He is very respectful and very polite. He appreciated us as much as we appreciated him and he always brought us cookies at Christmastime!

Tana Wood, retired Superintendent, Washington State penitentiary: To me, Terry was the embodiment of competent, responsible and  professional journalism, a quality sadly missing in much of today's media.   I knew that any story he wrote regarding the Pen would be honest, through and not biased.  It may not be favorable or something I wanted to see,  but it would have been properly researched and factual.  He trusted me to give him the straight story and that if I wasn't at liberty to share certain things, he knew I would say so.  I trusted him to be honest and fair.   And let's not lose sight of the fact that Terry is an outstanding writer and very smart. We were both new to executions and in a sense learned some things together.  I was encouraged and empowered by his approach to the process as well as his sensitivity to the subject as well as his  professional demeanor. And of course, he was responsible for the most potentially career shortening decision I ever made — Life on the  the Hill.  Not everyone could have pulled it off and to be honest, if it had been anyone but Terry, I would have said no.  One of my most valued mementos is the framed picture of the tower with the signatures of Terry and the key UB staff that they gave me in thanks.  I have carefully kept it for 20+ years now and it hangs in my office today.  On a personal note,  Terry and I share the same birth date (August 9). We exchanged cards for several years and he always made sure everyone knew he was significantly younger than me! Thank you for letting me express my honor and appreciation for Terry, as a person and as an outstanding journalist!

Brenden Koch, specialty publications editor and wire editor: My thoughts on Terry are of what a professional reporter he is. A large part of my role at the U-B is to ensure each page goes to the press with zero errors.  So I read each article on every page very closely, to detect and correct typos, grammatical issues and the like. Over my nearly six years as a copy editor and editor at the paper, reading articles and columns by our reporters has allowed me to learn each one’s idiosyncratic tendencies when writing.  Each has a minor quirk or two I regularly have to look carefully for and correct — except Terry McConn. Terry’s articles are precise, written with exactly the right terms, grammar and spelling.  In the likely thousands of articles of his I've read, I have probably had to correct no more than a half-dozen errors.  He is a paragon of perfection, a standard all other reporters should strive to meet.

Silvia Fox, receptionist, switchboard operator: I will be missing Mr. McConn. I am happy that he is retiring, but I am just wondering who is going to keep me on my toes from now on?....He always told me where to park and how long I should be at that spot!.....Terry never wanted me to get a parking ticket. He was always reminding me to move my car. All of this with he's hidden sense of humor!...He is one of the best friends here at the UB. He will really be missed. Good luck to you Terry!

Etcetera appears in daily and Sunday editions. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or afternoons at 526-8313. 

Annie joined the U-B news staff in 1979 and since 1990 has written Etcetera, a daily community column. She was promoted to a copy editing post in 2007. She edits copy, designs and lays out pages, including the weekly arts and entertainment guide Marquee,