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After 30 Years in Lowell, Sun Editor Calls It a Career

November 17, 2018

Sun Editor Jim Campanini looks over the newspaper's website with digital producer Jendhamuni Sos on Friday. sun/chris lisinski Sun staff photos can be ordered by visiting our SmugMug site.

LOWELL -- James H. Campanini, who as editor piloted The Sun through one of the most turbulent periods in the newspaper industry while overseeing its emergence as a powerful force on social media, announced Friday he will depart on Nov. 30.

Campanini’s future at The Sun has been the subject of speculation for months.

The time has arrived, however, to “stop moving the goal posts” on a departure date, the 66-year-old veteran journalist said Friday.

“First it was this past summer, then the election, then the end of the year,” Campanini said. “Finally, Mary Lee (Harrington, his wife) said it’s time.

“Think about it,” he added. “In 43 years in this business I have never had December off to enjoy the holiday season. I am looking forward to having a normal breakfast and going on walks with Pigeon,” referring to Mike Pigeon, his dear friend, “wine butler,” and retired Sun photographer.

A resident of Lowell’s Belvidere section, Campanini joined The Sun in 1988 as assistant managing editor. He soon worked his way up the newsroom corporate ladder to managing editor, executive news editor, news and operations manager and editorial page editor.

He was named editor in 2004 to guide The Sun’s transformation into the digital age.

Campanini met with Sun Publisher Kevin Corrado early Friday morning, then announced his plans to newsroom staff.

Corrado said he will miss Campanini’s leadership and steady hand.

“I’ve only worked with Jim a little over a year, and in that time I’ve come to respect and appreciate him,” Corrado said. “To say that ink ran in Jim’s blood is an understatement. No matter what issue we were facing, I knew I could count on Jim to find a way to present the story with integrity and in a fair and accurate manner. Jim has earned this time to enjoy his family ... without having to worry about missing deadline. I will miss him.”

Following his graduation from the University of Rhode Island, Campanini worked for several newspapers, including the New London (Conn.) Day, Salem Evening News and Patriot Ledger of Quincy, usually for about half-dozen years each. He figured to continue the trend in Lowell, but something happened.

“The people I’ve met in this city and region are remarkable, and their energy to improve the region is contagious,” he said. “The Sun was instrumental in making the region a better place to live and work. I was happy to call this city not only a place where I work, but also my home.”

But it hasn’t been easy. The 24-hour news cycle has been a game-changer for community newspapers. When Campanini took over, the newspaper had several editions, more than four dozen full-time employees and nearly two dozen part-timers.

The roster isn’t as deep today, but those who put out The Sun seven days a week, 365 days a year are professional, dogged and committed, Campanini said.

A proud Rhode Island native who never misses an opportunity to discuss his youth growing up in Providence, Campanini graduated from URI in 1974 and, later in his career, a special computer-assisted reporting course at the venerable University of Missouri.

With his newfound skills one of his first projects was tracing the most popular pet names in the region. The project didn’t topple a corrupt politician, but Campanini showed what can be achieved with spreadsheets and data. Soon the staff was trained to enhance their research skills with the same tools.

He would later became a tireless advocate for the public’s right to know, constantly prodding reporters to file state and federal freedom of information requests to pry from city and town halls documents public officials were loathe to release. As a result, The Sun has won several New England Newspaper and Press Association awards given to newspapers that protect the First Amendment and the public’s right to know.

A journalist who got his start writing 10 stories a week for a weekly, and later sports, Campanini has numerous titles under his belt. In 1976, Campanini won best sports story and best column from the then-New England Press Association and The Suburban Newspapers of America.

At The Sun, he’s won five New England first-place awards for editorial writing and finished runner-up three times. In 2008, he became the first journalist in The Sun’s then 130-year history to win the prestigious Allan B. Rogers Award for writing what was judged by the Neiman Foundation as the best local editorial in New England.

A year later, in 2009, Campanini also broke new ground when he received the Yankee Quill, the highest honor for lifetime achievements in New England journalism. He was the first journalist from The Sun to receive the Quill.

At the time, Campanini said: “It means an awful lot being honored by my peers. I am deeply humbled to be in a group of such accomplished journalists who have done so much good for New England newspapers and their communities.”

Another important watershed event in Campanini’s life happened earlier this fall, when he attended a family reunion in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

In the heart of the Smoky Mountains, he did some soul-searching.

“My wife has been retired for four years and so has my brother,” he said, referring to his identical twin brother, John. “In retirement, he’s taken four strokes off his golf game. I’d like the chance to try and catch up.”

Campanini plans to do just that, in addition to pursuing his passion: the study of wine. Since 2014, he has traveled to wine regions in France, Italy, New York State, California, Oregon, and Washington State, where he has met dozens of vintners and producers. His experiences have been chronicled in the popular “Wine Novice” column he writes weekly for The Sun and online. He plans to continue writing the column.

In February, Campanini completed a two-year Wine Scholar Guild exam program in Italian wines and received his certification with honors. He is also working toward his French wine certification.

Last year, Campanini launched a series of two-hour wine seminars at the Nesmith House through Middlesex Community College’s adult continuing education program. The fall series was a sellout and it will be revived in the spring of 2019.

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