Farewell to a trusted news reporter

Chris Knight smiles on assignment for the Enterprise at the 2014 Winter Olympic is Sochi, Russia. (Enterprise photo)

Chris Knight has been Saranac Lake’s premier news reporter for 16 years: almost eight years at WNBZ radio and then eight more at the Enterprise. Now he’s leaving the news business, and we congratulate North Country Community College for not messing around in reviving its long-dormant communications director job.

At the same time, we have to admit we’re grieving a little inside.

We’ve seen countless reporters leave to do public relations for government entities, nonprofit corporations and corporations. The trend was established long before we got into this business. In general, PR jobs pay better and have more regular hours.

It shouldn’t be that way. Journalists serve the general public interest, whereas PR professionals serve narrow interests. Ideally, the pipeline would go the other way: News writers would start their careers writing press releases and asking professional reporters to cover their employers’ doings, yet aspire to be those reporters who inform the public on a broad scale and balance a wide variety of viewpoints.

But hey, we may as well try and catch the wind. Economic reality is what it is, so please forgive us for griping. We’re just sad to lose Chris.

He started with WNBZ at the beginning of September 2001, just before all hell broke loose on a certain Tuesday morning. Even though the 9/11 terrorist attacks took place in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania, they were a local story that consumed us all for weeks. (Editor’s note: A typo in the year of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has been corrected.)

Around that time, Enterprise Managing Editor (then reporter) Peter Crowley met Chris for the first time at a Saranac Lake village board meeting. When Chris said he was from WNBZ, Peter said something like, “What are you doing here?” Before then, the station’s morning news report consisted of reading newspaper articles on the air. For it to send a reporter out of the office to do original reporting was mind-boggling.

It didn’t take long at all for Chris to start scooping the Enterprise here and there, even though the Enterprise had three Tri-Lakes reporters and he was on his own. We started trying to hire him way back then, but he wouldn’t budge.

Finally in summer 2009, he was ready to jump, and we gave him a place to land. It was one of the best moves we ever made, and people around here were not shy about telling us so. That was a tough year for newspapers and the economy as a whole, yet while other papers were slashing the size of their newsrooms, we strengthened our reporting power by bringing aboard a veteran who had long ago earned the trust of the community.

He expanded his horizons at the Enterprise. At the radio station he was known for cranking out four or five short stories a day, but the newspaper nudged him toward more depth and breadth. His news stories became more thorough and authoritative, and he wrote feature stories that will live forever in our memories: on a local firefighter finally talking to the 4-year-old girl who jumped into his arms from a burning hotel in 1964, on local hermit “Hawkeye” Hawkinson’s magnificent antique cars, and on the fire chief’s bad ventriloquist act spawning a cross-country voyage for his puppet.

Chris got to dig into some investigative reporting, too, such as a 10-part series on NCCC, exposing a deep breakdown between administration, faculty and staff. The fact that the same administration hired him after that shows his series may have engendered much healing — or else, we joke among ourselves, they just wanted to shut him up.

We had to look it up, but in Chris’ eight years at the Enterprise he has won at least 20 state-level awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, state government coverage, business reporting, breaking news, continuing coverage, community service and even a multi-media presentation.

Aside from all that, he’s also our great friend. In that sense, though, we won’t lose him. We won’t see him quite as often, but when we do it will be to enjoy each other’s company rather than to work.

So yeah, we’ll miss him, but it’s also good to have fresh faces in the newsroom and not to rest on our laurels. If you haven’t already, please join us in welcoming Aaron Cerbone, our new reporter covering Tupper Lake as well as arts and entertainment. He’s a Rochester area native and a recent graduate of SUNY Brockport, where he was deeply embedded in the student newspaper. And soon we’ll have a new reporter covering Saranac Lake as well.

Staff turnover is inevitable, but we will never slack in our commitment to bringing you the news and the stories of the Adirondack communities, or in our zeal for fairness, accuracy, thoroughness and earning your trust.