After 14 years here, I’m heading into a new career. And City Limits is moving into an exciting new era.

When I was eight my parents took my brother and me from my hometown New Britain to New York City for a few days, and I fell in love.

It wasn’t the big buildings, fancy shops or famous museums that sealed it. It was the night when, having come down with a bad sore throat, I lay awake in our hotel room, and felt the living city around me: the sounds of sirens and people enjoying a night out, of a sax player on a corner, the vibrations from buses and garbage trucks prowling the streets. Across the street, lights blazed in an office building where the cleaning staff was at work. I understood then that I was part of something far larger than me, and I felt larger for being part of it.

For the past 14 years and change, City Limits has allowed me to exercise all the affection and fascination that was born on that family trip, metastasized when I came to the Bronx for college in 1994, and grew during my stints at the Hartford Advocate (where I got to cover a smaller city), and the Village Voice.

Today, as I transition from roughly 25 years in journalism to a career in nursing, I’m grateful for the fact that, just like the city itself, City Limits has always been bigger than me. Even during the brief period in 2015 when I was the sole staff member, its existence reflected collective effort: reporters, photographers, partners, donors, board members, funders, readers, interns and the editors who came before me.

That story continues now. With Jeanmarie Evelly at the editorial helm and Marjorie Martay as executive director, and with the best team of reporting and supportive talent that this organization has ever assembled, its best days clearly lay ahead. I’ll stay involved as a contributing editor as best I can. As a longtime donor myself, I hope you’ll support the important work City Limits does by contributing generously.

I have too many debts of gratitude to tally fully here. I think my mom, Claire Murphy; my wife, Eileen Markey; and my sons Owen and Hugh know their fundamental role in making me work. I hope the friends and heroes that have passed on—Wayne Barrett, Jim Dwyer, Ray Schroth, Don Forst, Heidi Hynes, Ward Harkavy and the great Tom Murphy—had some sense of their importance in my story.

Like any skeptical reporter, I of course have regrets when I review the roughly one-third of my life I have spent here. There are stories I wished I’d skipped and others I shouldn’t have passed over. I’d love to rework dozens of headlines and re-do scores of interviews. And yes, I could have written everything a little shorter. But I don’t regret having my career defined by City Limits, even though that was not the plan back in 2007. I always figured I would in a year or two find the place where I’d go to do my best work. It turned out I was already there.

Many memories fill me with pride, especially my reporting on the bail system and stop-and-frisk, the big environmental stories and our intelligent coverage of homelessness. Our election work has been insightful and remarkably comprehensive, and our many in-depth investigations comprise a true public service. The partnerships with Gotham Gazette, BRIC, WBAI, MetroFocus, El Diario and WNYC were deeply rewarding, and I’m glad to have started the CLARIFY internship, Una Ciudad sin Limites, Age Justice, Art at the Limits, City Plate and other initiatives. Being an adjunct at Hunter, Fordham and the Newmark School was a true honor. Overseeing City Limits’ move from a parent nonprofit into fiscal independence, from print to digital and (with Fran Reilly and Mark Edmiston) from one-man-band to a staff of eight required skills I never thought I’d need. Whether it was fronting money to freelancers out of pocket, moving City Limits from one office to another in the back of my Prius, skipping my 10th wedding anniversary to cover Hurricane Irene, or editing from a hospital bed in 2019, I gave this job my all, and it gave everything back.

However, in all candor, the one achievement I’ve been thinking about in recent weeks was one of my shortest stories—just an extended caption, really. It ran in our now-defunct magazine in 2010, in a section where we told the tales behind interesting photos from our archive.

The picture, by George Cohen, is of Sensa Alomar and Elias Rodriguez at a homeless shelter in the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx in June 1985. Their daughter, Sensa, is in the crib. I managed to contact Sensa and talk to her briefly. She told me both her parents were dead by 1992. I sent her a copy of the photo. She had never seen a picture of her mother before.

Like every image and all stories, the photo is a little voyeuristic. It doesn’t tell us anything much about the people depicted in it—their complex lives, inner thoughts, the fate that awaited them. All it shows is a single instant of human feeling and contact. I find it moving, as silly and sappy as that might seem. I guess I’m proud of it because it’s the kind of thing only City Limits would publish.

And also, because of this:

Their tenderness amid hardship is the life force of this magnificent city. Our brawn, wealth, diversity and creativity all help—and yes, policy details really matter. But in the end, it’s our ability to find love and beauty amid the struggle that has sustained us. I suspect it will also get New York through the tough times that lay ahead, if we let it.

Here’s hoping we see each other in the crowd.

15 thoughts on “Reporter’s Note: A Chapter Ends & A Story Continues

  1. Jarrett…Good luck in your new mission. We need skilled nurses as we need skilled and principled journalists. You mentioned some great mentors who have left us. If you didn’t already know it, Wayne thought the world of you. I’m sure he told you. He definitely touted you to folks like me. He might’ve been saddened at your leaving the trenches of daily reporting but I’m sure he’d be proud of your continuing commitment to service.

  2. Remarkable chronicling of the city’s life, and building an essential institution; thanks, Jarrett, and best wishes in your next chapter

  3. Jarrett,

    Thank you. You’ve been such an important part of efforts to make New York better, and City Limits, always a critical resource, thrived under your leadership. Now, you’ve moved me to tears with this last bit. Best of luck with the nursing career. I can’t imagine that you’ll be any less successful there.

  4. Thank you for being such a generous and encouraging professor Jarrett. We are all the better for your kindness, humanity and wisdom. You are my Wayne Barrett.

    Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!

  5. Jarrett, I have so much gratitude to you for the opportunities you gave me and for always being such a kind editor when I was so nervous. I was shocked to read that you are leaving journalism but then it also seemed so right that you are going in the direction of serving people when they need you most and just another expression of the same impulse that led you to journalism. Thank you for everything and best of luck.

  6. Thank you Jarrett Murphy for your and your publications contribution to our nascent Facebook Group Bronx City Council District 11 Voters Forum. Your content graces our platform daily and provides an immeasurable contribution to local voter education. We are very grateful. We thank you, and wish you success in your new career.

  7. A swan who paddles through the surface of a lake never knows the subtle but indelible influence the wake it casts in the waters behind. Memorable journalists -be they eloquent or curt, subtle or brash, crusading or reflective – cast wakes that forever rearrange the surface of the the waters they explore. Jarrett Murphy, sometimes subtle and sometimes not and most times crusading and reflective, and always eloquent – has disturbed the surface of a stagnant lake that was local community media in his adopted city. Jarrett, as you swim into new waters and make waves of a different kind, know that the wake you have cast so far, influences far more and far longer than you can imagine. Like the swan, the best journalists don’t cut through stagnant waters to make waves, but to propel forward. The work you have done, the students you have inspired and the change you have engineered will reverberate for a long time, even as you swim into different waters. Good luck. You have the skill and leadership to rock the boat wherever you choose to swim.

  8. Thank you Mr. Murphy for your inclusion of our Bronx Pelham Parkway Issues. You will be missed but you made impact in many lives and it will continue in your new career.

    Best Wishes
    Roxanne Delgado

  9. Beautifully written, as always, Jarrett. Thank you for everything you have done for the city that has no limits and best wishes as you head to a new career that will continue your honorable public service.

  10. Great piece! Really sums up journalism at its best. I know George Cohen and his photos, have worked with him a few times in the past.

  11. You can edit this part out, but it’s “lie” not “lay.” The piece notes things “lay” ahead, etc., it should be “lie” ahead, as in the present tense. And there is one other usage of it in the piece.

  12. Great piece! Nicely written. Captures journalism at its best. I know George Cohen and his photos, did some work with him in the past.

  13. Having made a couple of dramatic career changes myself, I know it takes guts and a lot of work. I admire you for doing it and wish you luck in your new life. I will miss your excellent writing and reporting, but hope you find time to chime in every now and then.

    Be well.

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