An era will come to an end at the Mercury tomorrow, the last day at work for one of the newspaper’s unsung heroes.
Associate editor Kerry Skinner retires tomorrow after 38 (almost unbroken) years at the Mercury.
It would be fair to say that every Mercury reader over those years has benefited from Kerry’s vast contribution to the paper, yet chances are most would not know his name – unless they read his weekly wine column.
You see Kerry has been one of those back-room journalists, the subeditors, who play a vital role in producing daily newspapers but are rarely known by the readers.
Kerry did some reporting when he started as a cadet at the Lithgow Mercury back in 1970 but since joining the Illawarra Mercury in 1974 as a subeditor he has worked almost exclusively producing newspapers rather than writing them (although he has written most of the Mercury’s editorials in recent years).
Young reporters (and readers) often make the mistake of thinking that reporters are the true journalists, while the subeditors simply edit stories or design pages and aren’t really journalists at all. How wrong that assumption is.
Tomorrow Kerry Skinner will take with him an incredible array of journalistic skills that have served the paper extremely well for so long.
At the top of the list I’d put news sense – that vital part of every good journalist’s DNA that means he recognises a good story when he sees one, and uses it accordingly. He’s put that exceptional news sense to great effect in all the senior roles he’s had at the Mercury – as news editor, chief subeditor, sports editor, features editor, as founding editor of the community paper the Advertiser, and more recently, as editor of the Weekender magazine and a host of special publications.
With Kerry in charge, it was never an accident that the best stories had the most prominence in his section, that his cover story was a ripper.
Add flair, local knowledge, experience, integrity, mentoring skills and good, old-fashioned commitment to hard work, and you’ve got a picture of a fine journalist. And did I mention that he’s also a really good bloke?
At this point I should declare a personal interest. Kerry’s been my good mate from the day I started at the Mercury in 1977. We shared a house in my first year in Wollongong, and I had the honour of being his best man when he married Jenny Bate in 1980.
He taught me a lot about the art of page design and editing stories, and later, in my time as editor, I relied heavily on him in a number of key roles.
Kerry left the Mercury twice for brief periods. On the first occasion he took a job at the Sydney Morning Herald but didn’t enjoy city life, and came “home”. The second time he and his new bride decided to try a “tree change”, and moved to Orange to open a sandwich shop. But Kerry was born to be a journalist, not serve sandwiches. It wasn’t long before he was lured back to Wollongong to start the Advertiser.
That was in the early 1980s. He has been serving you, the Mercury’s readers, ever since.
Happy retirement, mate. You’ve earned it.
Nick Hartgerink is a former Mercury editor