There have been times over the past three and a half years when I have described this medium as the little old Chief. It operates with a small staff and only serves a small part of Houston, the sliver just northwest of downtown.
But I just learned that The leader has a significant impact on the community it serves – and has for decades. It is a trusted source of information for residents of the Heights, Garden Oaks and Oak Forest areas, as well as being an advocate for those who live, work and play here. It has also been a source of great pride, chronicling the accomplishments of the community and the people who make it so revered throughout the city and beyond.
The connection between The leader and the neighborhoods it serves are both rare and remarkable, perhaps a relic of a bygone era when almost everyone picked up a newspaper and read its articles from cover to cover. Not everyone in the area reads The leadersure, or even pick it up on their sidewalk, yard, or driveway, but I’ve spoken to enough residents and received enough emails to know that it remains well-read and enjoyed.
With its mix of wellness stories, neighborhood news nuggets, and deeper reports that expose issues facing both the community and Houston as a whole, The leader could also be compared to a small-town weekly in the heart of a big city.
Leader Country, as it was once called, became a home during the few years I was its editorial manager. And it has earned a huge place in my heart.
This heart aches as I write this column, because it is the last one I write in the last edition that I prepare as editor-in-chief. I leave The leader to pursue another opportunity in journalism and pass on a baton that has existed since 1954, when the first edition of the newspaper was delivered.
I hope to be gone The leader at least as good as I found it, and on my next stop I will no doubt draw on the experiences I have had here and the skills I have learned. I’m forever grateful to owner Jonathan McElvy for taking a sports journalist through his career and teaching him how to be a reporter, take pictures, plan ahead and manage a team of other reporters .
I’m also grateful to those other writers – a mix of full-time staff, freelancers, and in some cases volunteer contributors – who worked alongside me, followed my instructions and feedback, enabled me to being fastidious about details and have helped me put together engaging, entertaining and educational stories week after week in print and day after day online.
I am especially grateful to you, The leader readers, who may have seen me wandering down a neighborhood street with a camera around my neck and a curious look on my face. And a special thank you to all the community members and civic leaders who greeted me, answered my questions, taught me the history of the neighborhood, and reached out to alert me when there was big news to announce, an important event to cover, or an issue that warranted investigation.
I’m immensely proud of the relationships I’ve built and the stories I’ve been able to tell. Neither will soon be forgotten.
In that sense, I’d like to leave you with some of the most memorable moments and stories – or is it tails? – of my mandate as editor-in-chief.
Bob the dog has to be at the top of the list, even though I’ve never personally met the little guy. The stories I’ve told about this docked-tailed lab mix — who went from eccentric, beloved misfit to neighborhood nuisance to witness protection program to picking up at the pound to save the dog in a loving and accepting home – were some of the most gut-wrenching and inspiring I have ever written.
Equally moving were the reports of road deaths, particularly those on North Shepherd Drive and the 10e Street at the beginning of 2019 and that of West 43rd Street and Cheshire Lane in 2020. Wheelchair-bound Jesse Perez and Good Samaritan Leesha Adams were struck and killed by the driver of a car as they tried to cross Shepherd, and when I visited the site of the collision a few days later, I could still see some of the runs that had been ripped from Perez.
Following the crash that killed Oak Forest resident Karen Yager at the intersection of 43rd and Cheshire, I knelt on the nearby median to photograph the speeding vehicles to my left and right. Wilted flowers remained where Yager died, as did bits of plastic from a crashed car.
Sobering moments like this make you think about the fragility of life and also make you think twice about speeding down a street or texting while driving or driving after drinking.
There was also the time I stood near and sometimes on the North Loop 610 access road, after midnight, in an attempt to witness and film an illegal car race. Didn’t see anything too fast or too furious, but did realize residents of Shepherd Forest had to deal with a lot of highway noise.
Another enlightening experience was reporting on homelessness and approaching a few men who were resting under the 610 overpass late one weeknight. I was lucky that two of them were friendly and eager to share their stories, and I felt like they felt lucky that someone took the time to talk to them and understand their spell.
Eating food from Mexican restaurant Don Jose was a somewhat surreal experience, after reporting on its fate and then its owners’ decision to reopen after an outpouring of community support. Knowing that I helped keep a beloved neighborhood restaurant alive, while gobbling down its enchilada verdes, was a pretty cool feeling.
Lead the writing of The leader was a cool gig in itself. I feel like I grew up here to some degree, and learned to love the Greater Heights and its eclectic mix of people and places.
I’d like to think that I played a small role in contributing to the tradition and legacy of The leader, which has long been a popular commodity in a special part of Houston. You could even call it an institution.
It’s certainly bigger than any person or editor. This editor saw it with his own eyes.
Email Adam Zuvanich at [email protected]
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