SARANAC LAKE — The Enterprise’s managing editor, Peter Crowley, is spending his last day on the job on Friday.
He didn’t set out to be a newspaper editor, but it’s where he ended up. Now, after a 22-year detour that’s brought him a lot of happiness, he’s returning to what he planned to do when he graduated from college — teaching high school students the art of language. He will start work on his master’s degree in teaching in the fall.
Crowley grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, but he visited Saranac Lake throughout his childhood to see his grandparents, who lived here. They were Enterprise subscribers, and he’d see copies around their house. He remembers passing the Enterprise office building on Broadway.
When he moved here in 1999, he initially wanted to work in the woods. But he had “caught the bug” writing for his college paper, The Mike. He didn’t have much experience in journalism, but with a small enough paper, he could get his start.
The Enterprise, he said, was about as small a daily as you can get.
The Adirondacks fostered his love of the wilderness. He had attended and then worked at Camp Guggenheim on Lower Saranac Lake, and grew to love hiking, canoeing and skiing.
He still gets to spend some weekends on mountaintops, on the water and among the trees, but not as much as he’d like.
This job has kept him from things he loves — his family, the outdoors, wealth — because he loves it, too.
He loves telling stories. Give him a minute and he’ll take an hour to tell you about people, events, cultures, music and ideas he’s interested in. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got all day or are in a hurry.
When he gets excited talking about something, his hands start flying. He’ll use the space around him to tell the story. He’ll walk across the room to show space or find a map to show the proximity of where his story takes place.
The job that is the source of his joy is also the source of his pain. He worries that he wasn’t home enough for his daughters, and when he was, he was tired. He’d spend week after week putting in 60-plus hours at the office. He burned the midnight oil while poring over pages. Despite the stress, he found satisfaction.
Getting the job
After graduating college, Crowley traveled North America with his then-girlfriend, now-wife, Michelle. They broke up on the trip.
In 1999, Crowley was wandering, living out of his car, and ended up back with his parents in Alabama.
He gave himself two options: Move to Memphis, Tennessee, where he might busk and try to get a music career going; or the Adirondacks, where he could try working in the woods. He kept “that small newspaper” in the back of his mind as a fallback plan.
Both options were risky, and fields he had little experience in. He chose the Adirondacks. He missed it here.
He landed on his grandparents’ couch in Saranac Lake.
His first real interaction with the Enterprise was looking in the classifieds for a job. He failed to get a job at the Enterprise twice, but eventually, his perseverance earned him a reporting job at the weekly Lake Placid News.
First days on the job
On Crowley’s first day of work, a call came over the police scanner. Through the crackles and static, he heard there was a fire at the Swiss Acres Motel in Lake Placid. When he and his editor Andy Flynn got there, Flynn started taking photos, but Crowley was feeling “useless,” unsure what to do.
Interviewing is not something that comes naturally to everyone. Crowley’s first-ever interview went poorly. It was for a college essay, with an author he was reading. His legs and hands were shaking so badly he ended the interview after just a few minutes.
But on this day, he saw a group of Ironmen who were staying at the motel standing in the parking lot, so he went over to talk to them.
Then he had to go to the Enterprise in Saranac Lake, say his hellos to everyone there, and get to work writing the fire story for the daily paper.
He could likely tell you a story for every day he’s worked here since.
The pace was brisk his first few weeks at the Lake Placid News, but soon he had a slow week, with just a few stories. Flynn let him do it but afterward told him, “Don’t ever do that again.”
Crowley took that to heart. There’s always another story to be told. He’s tough on himself because he holds himself to a high standard.
“An editor’s job is to find mistakes,” Crowley said. “I can be a nitpicker.”
“I missed it”
Crowley switched from the News to the Enterprise in 2000, covering Saranac Lake. He and Michelle got back together, got married and had a child. He left the Enterprise in 2002, and they traveled, worked with refugees in Georgia and moved to California where he covered cops and courts for the daily Gilroy Dispatch. There they had their second daughter.
It was 2004, and he was 29. He and Michelle wanted to move closer to his grandparents and the Adirondacks.
“I missed it,” he said earnestly.
Michelle flew to Saranac Lake to show off the baby to family and scout houses. She stopped into the office to say hello to Publisher Cathy Moore, and Moore invited Crowley to apply for a job as editor. One month later, they were back.
It was a big change to being an editor. He was at a desk more, and he had to learn how to lay out a newspaper page and manage people.
As the oldest of five children, this came naturally.
“I don’t think that I was a particularly bossy older sibling, but maybe I was saving it all,” he said.
Crowley said he ruffled some feathers with his changes. He felt the reporters were too scheduled, and he wanted them to cover bigger stories. So he made an effort to be … well, enterprising.
He had always eyed how a page is laid out. He wanted his stories to look good.
“When I came back as editor in 2004 I thought … people love to complain about the editor,” Crowley said. He was worried about harassment and his family being caught up in that, but it never really happened.
“People aren’t that bad,” he said.
Carrots and sticks
Carrot: Crowley watched his wife go back to college and become a nurse, and was inspired by her. His goal of being a high school English teacher now felt attainable.
His grandfather always thought he should be a teacher rather than a journalist. Both of his parents and two of his brothers are teachers.
“It’s what people talk about when we get together,” he said.
Stick: The job’s tough and getting tougher. He feels he’s getting diminishing returns on his efforts.
The Enterprise was behind the industry curve on staff cuts. Its staffing level remained stable until around 2019, but when the reductions came, they came one after another.
In 2019, the Enterprise and News had 12 people working in their Editorial and Production departments in the newsroom. When Crowley leaves, there will be five, although parent company Ogden Newspapers plans to hire a new editor.
The existence of the stick does not reduce the significance of the carrot, though. He’s hungry for this carrot.
Crowley loves literature, but he’s most passionate about language. Whether it is writing or speaking, everyone uses it, and the better they can use it, the more influential they can be. He wants to instill a love, an understanding and a respect for language in his students. He wants to show them stories that get them interested.
Also, with his youngest daughter graduating high school next year, he and Michelle are preparing to be empty-nesters.
“I feel like I’m going to miss having young people around,” Crowley said.
What he’ll miss and what he won’t
Crowley said he’ll miss everyday and unconventional moments of the job, from people stopping him on the street and pitching him a story, to lugging cameras, computers and coats around the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.
He is not going to miss being stuck in the office with a pile of work every day, but in a way, he also will. It’s exciting and exhausting. He said the greatest feeling is the instant gratification of breaking news and feeling strongly that “this matters.”
He said he’s going to miss “the team” — his employees and co-workers and friends.
He’ll miss the camaraderie among North Country papers. For many years, they competed against one another, but he’s proud of the collaboration they’ve accomplished since then.
“Journalism is a team sport,” Crowley said.
He said he loves meeting fellow journalists.
“It’s a special breed of people who will work so hard for such high public scrutiny, for so little money,” Crowley said.
Now, he’s excited to start meeting fellow teachers and language lovers.