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Longtime Monitor journalist Brad Knickerbocker retires at 73

After working from his Ashland home as editor-writer for the Christian Science Monitor over the last quarter-century, Brad Knickerbocker, 73, hung up his laptop Aug. 31 and retired.

He may do an occasional story for the Boston-based Monitor and certainly post some “trenchant” insights on Facebook, but Knickerbocker says this is his first real time away from work since he became a Navy jet pilot out of college in 1966.

A jet jockey in the light attack A-4 Skyhawk, Knickerbocker did one tour in Vietnam, getting shot at over North Vietnam and Laos, finished out as a flight instructor in California, met his wife Carol (a Klamath Falls native) and, while tripping around together in a Volkswagen van in Europe — and finding himself driven to hunt down copies of the International Herald Tribune — decided his life had to be in journalism. 

With no resume whatever in journalism, Knickerbocker sent out 70 applications to daily papers in the Northeast, New York (his home) and Northwest, landing him one job offer, on the Rochester daily.

His pitch in the letters? “I know how to fly high-performance aircraft and I want to be in journalism, so please hire me.”

After a year-plus covering everything from dog shows to the Attica prison riot, Knickerbocker tried the Monitor, starting there in 1972. The editors liked him.

“Something about military training was good for journalism, I think,” he says. “The ability to focus. You need that situational awareness, inside the cockpit and out. If you don’t have it, it could be deadly. It’s a skill that translated to being a reporter. I loved the work.”

Especially appealing was the sort of story the Monitor did — more explanatory, in-depth, not local stuff, and, he notes, intended for the more informed, thoughtful reader.

“It felt natural to me.”

The Monitor popped him into the maelstrom of Boston City Hall politics, where “I learned everything I needed to know about politics, many stories that could be novels, a fair amount of corruption, big stories like school desegregation and busing.”

In the '70s, Knickerbocker, by that time in San Francisco, moved into a beat covering the budding environmental movement in California and the Northwest — especially the huge clash in Oregon around logging and the spotted owl.

Knickerbocker was national news editor at the Monitor in Boston until his and Carol’s thoughts turned to quality-of-life and raising their son, Scott. Carol was already keen on Ashland and her father, a Weyerhaeuser executive in Klamath Falls, had made the firm a major supporter of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

As Knickerbocker’s love for Ashland blossomed after they moved here in 1989, so did the Internet, allowing him to be a pioneer in the first wave of telecommuters, creating his Monitor “bureau” in his Ashland home.

“Ashland was everything a big city was not,” he says. “It was and is really livable, a great place for children to grow up and we could be close to Carol’s parents here. I found a way to make it work for the Monitor.”

In 1993, Knickerbocker says, he and a Monitor photographer retraced the path of the Oregon Trail to mark the 150th anniversary of the first wagon train, interviewing ranchers, historians, native Americans and others along the way for a special series.

Later, a big part of his beat became covering anti-government radicals — including militias, "sovereign citizens" and the Aryan Nations. He got into the Aryan Nations compound in Idaho and covered a stand-off in Montana, he says. 

Looking at the big changes in news in the past few decades, Knickerbocker notes that the Monitor encourages writers to post their stories on Google+, Twitter, Facebook and such social sites. As for sources of news, Knickerbocker gets the Monitor, the Tidings, Atlantic Monthly and Foreign Affairs. Online, he draws from Politico, Pro Publica and others.

His advice to those thinking of telecommuting from Ashland? “Don’t sell your house. Try it here for six months. Be part of the community. You can do a lot by telecommuting, but not everything. Writing and design are easiest. Colleagues and meetings can be Skyped. You have to be able to work alone, be a self-starter and know when to turn it off. People have asked me if it’s hard to work alone, at home. I answer it’s hard not to work alone because it’s always here right around me.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Former Christian Science Monitor Brad Knickerbocker, 73, was a pilot with the Navy jet pilot out of college in 1966. A pilot cap that belonged to Knickerbocker's father, Robert Knickerbocker, who was pilot with the Blue Angels rest on family photos at his home in Ashalnd. Daily Tidings / Jamie Lusch
After working from his Ashland home as editor-writer for the Christian Science Monitor over the last quarter-century, Brad Knickerbocker, 73, hung up his laptop Monday and retired.