For the last 33 years, Jon Carroll’s morning routine has looked the same—wake up and write an 800-word column for the San Francisco Chronicle. Now, his mornings look a little different. He’s still on the computer, but he isn’t writing a column. Instead, he’s reading or checking email. After more than three decades, writing nearly 9,000 columns and countless words, Carroll retired his daily column in November.
“Thirty-three years is a long time to be doing anything,” he wrote in his column announcing his retirement, and it was the first thing he said to me during our interview. “Maybe before I die, I want to do something other than write a daily newspaper column,” he told E&P.
The 72-year-old Carroll started and ended his newspaper career at the Chronicle. He worked on a Sunday paper section, editing wrap-ups of the news for the paper in 1962. Later, he worked for Rolling Stone in 1969 at a time when the magazine was chronicling rock ‘n roll’s disruption and influence on culture.
“We (at Rolling Stone) were kind of in the business of translating and celebrating that change,” Carroll said. “And I assume that I am baffled by some of the stuff today the way 50-year-olds were baffled by what Rolling Stone was doing.”
Now, Carroll says he’s seeing a new type of disruption in the media. With so much of today’s news online and with a struggling advertising model, he thinks “someone is going to figure it out.”
“Somehow the market will figure it out and the medium will determine the message to some extent,” Carroll said. “How it’s presented becomes part of the information.”
After announcing his retirement, Carroll said he received many handwritten and social media notes from readers thanking him for his writing.
His columns were often personal. He wrote about his wife, Tracy, and his family; he even detailed his own bouts of depression in one column, which resonated with readers. It was that column that Carroll admits was one of the most rewarding and difficult columns he wrote.
“I wrote that (column) in my head for a long time before I ever put a single word on paper. I wasn’t sure until the day I wrote it that I wanted to do it,” he said. “On the other hand, it seems to have been a good idea.”
As the media industry continues to pivot toward a more digital sphere, Carroll admitted 800-word newspaper columns aren’t particularly digital. Still, his time in the industry leads him to believe that print newspapers will be around as a niche product for a long time.
With more free time on his hands now, Carroll and his wife plan to travel more—they took a trip to Iran in December—and, with excitement in his voice, he said he has a lot of ideas for the future.
“I don’t know whether I want to do a blog right now, but I might. I might do podcasts. I might do longer pieces. I might write for magazines. I’m going to explore all that stuff and see what works,” he said. “I’m looking forward to taking a deep breath.”