Dennis Roddy, who has been a fixture in local journalism for nearly four decades, has left the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, taking a communications job for Gov. Tom Corbett.
"It was time for me, at age 57, to find out if I possess any transferable skills," Roddy told City Paper, whose website broke the news of his departure Feb. 1. Economic factors were a concern, he adds: The P-G and other newspapers have hemorrhaged jobs in recent years, and while Roddy predicts the industry will survive, "for a guy in his late 50s, the transition won't be easy."
Too, he says, after years of covering politicians, he "wondered if I could do better communicating for them."
His loss will be keenly felt.
"I've known some reporters who could write like a dream, and others who were the toughest investigators in town," says David Shribman, the Post-Gazette's executive editor. "But I've never known anyone who could do them both with the skill Dennis has."
A Johnstown native who came to the P-G after the Pittsburgh Press closed in 1992, Roddy has an enviable list of accomplishments. In recent years, he has reported on safety concerns in the coal-mining industry, life in post-earthquake Haiti, and political corruption on both sides of the aisle -- including allegations stemming from "Bonusgate," the Harrisburg scandal Corbett pursued while attorney general.
Still, "He's been resigning from this place for quite some time," says P-G columnist Brian O'Neill, whose desk was next to Roddy's.
Roddy's battles with management -- which ranged from the fate of a column he once penned to the wording of a correction -- are the stuff of newsroom legend. "I pitch a lot of fits, and I make a lot of trouble," Roddy acknowledges. ("I'm shocked -- just shocked -- at that assessment," Shribman responds.)
Even so, says O'Neill, "As much as he bitched about the way he was treated, he never seemed burned out by the work."
Indeed, says columnist Tony Norman, "The fact that he felt so unappreciated helped make him superior. Maybe if we all had less burnished self-esteem, we'd work as hard as Dennis does.
"At least he's leaving journalism rather than going to a competitor," Norman adds. "It's just devastating rather than infuriating."
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review did, in fact, offer farewell wishes -- of a sort. On Feb. 6, its anonymous "Whispers" column cited a blogger's insinuation that Roddy was hired to reward his Bonusgate reporting.
Citing a need to defer public comment in his new job, Roddy declined all further comment after his initial City Paper interview. But while he worked for the Trib's Greensburg edition in the 1970s, he's often been a thorn in its side. In 2007, for example, Roddy ferreted out sealed information from the divorce trial of Trib publisher Richard Mellon Scaife -- information that revealed huge financial losses at the paper.
But Roddy is respected inside the Trib newsroom, if not its editorial page. "I'm glad he's going because I feared competing against him," says Carl Prine, a Trib investigative reporter. "He was that good."
If anything, some coworkers privately express surprise at Roddy's taking the Corbett job. Roddy is a registered Republican, but it's hard to imagine him sticking to any party line. His parting e-mail to the newsroom, after all, began, "A wise man once told me, 'You're fired.'"
But Roddy will "make it work," predicts O'Neill. "He's always going to be Dennis."