AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   March 2003

Choosing a Master   

The demands of parenthood prompt Jan Leach to resign as editor of the Akron Beacon Journal.

By Lori Robertson
Lori Robertson (robertson.lori@gmail.com), a former AJR managing editor, is a senior contributing writer for the magazine.      

Jan Leach resigns as editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, and for the following three days--at least--the "why" of it all is abundantly clear.

She spent two days at home with sick kids, and on the third, the school nurse called her at work to say another one was coming down with something. "I just can't balance it," Leach says of life as a newspaper editor and vice president and mother of three girls, ages 8 (twins) and 11.

When Leach, 47, took the top post at the paper in 1998, her husband was in law school and able to juggle duties as a soccer dad. In August, he got a job at a law firm in Cleveland--35 minutes away--and Leach assumed more of the parenting responsibilities. "I was trying to serve two masters" and neither very well, she says.

So she made "a very wrenching decision" to leave the Beacon Journal. "I'm excited and looking forward to it," says Leach. "I'm also scared and sad about giving up...what the newspaper is able to do in the community."

Leach led work on children's issues at the 135,000-circulation paper, such as a series of investigations into shaken-baby syndrome.

She also saw the Knight Ridder paper through hard economic times in 2001, when editorial staffers faced the first layoffs in the paper's history and a large round of buyouts and early retirements (see "Dimming Beacon?" May 2001).

The Guild leadership credits Leach with saving two jobs from the layoffs and being easy to work with. "Jan can be a tough cookie, no doubt about it," says Paula Schleis, a reporter and vice chairwoman of the paper's Guild unit. But, she adds, "You could almost see that motherly role, that desire to try to be fair and work out a situation.... It was refreshing."

Leach's departure comes soon after another change in the Beacon's top leadership: Managing Editor Thom Fladung left in October to become ME at the Detroit Free Press, and his replacement, Debra Adams Simmons, former deputy ME at Norfolk's Virginian-Pilot, arrived in mid-February.

Leach, who was ME at the Cincinnati Enquirer and the Phoenix Gazette before coming to Akron, says she hopes to return to journalism. But for now, she's going to enjoy getting to soccer games before the second quarter.

"I'll be able to go to, for example, the rainforest play, be there on time... stay there for the whole thing...not leave 10 minutes early," Leach says. "I'm looking forward to that."