Editor’s note: This is Jeff Smith’s final column for the Tucson Citizen. It is among features that are being cut under budget constraints for 2008.
T alk about your post- Christmas letdown. OK, there’s no Santa Claus: I got that before I even left high school and I’m coping. No Easter bunny, all right so long as there’s still chocolate.
I’ve seen most of the legends and heroes of my youth defrocked, I’ve struggled through the death of the Linotype and the birth of offset and found a new genre of hot lead to sustain me. But I wasn’t prepared when they told me that Jeff Smith – my secret hero, the champion of the English-lit major – no longer exists.
That guy used to break me up.
He practically invented the buried lede. And run-on sentences, hell, you could pass out from oxygen depletion and he still hadn’t got to the predicate – except for in a half-dozen subordinate clauses. You couldn’t diagram some of those strung-together- with-commas Gordian knot jobs unless you could do it in three dimensions. I know: I tried.
But you could tell the guy got a boot out of his work, giggled as he hammered at the keyboard.
Now he’s got the boot from his work, the laughter is fading. Who am I now?
Bummed is what I am, but that’s not a noun it’s an adjective, and neither is of much import now, or tomorrow really: All that matters is adverbs. “It’s all about the adverbs.” The very smart father of a woman I used to know said that. Think about it.
All about the adverbs, the words that modify your verbs.
All righty, what are your verbs, Smith? Weep? Let’s use a few adverbs on it:
Smith wept copiously. Smith wept piteously. Smith wept briefly and then got off his pathetic butt (your trusty noun/adjective combo) and wrote again, brilliantly.
Catch my drift? If you’re doing something with your life other than passively watching it expire, something like running, jumping, yodeling, shooting, it’s the adverbs that it’s all about – like faster, higher, hillbillyer, straighter.
But sometimes better isn’t good enough. Times like these, cheaper is generally the adverb the suits are looking for. They want a bottom line that is chubbier, so the investors will be happier, because they’re richer when the dividend checks arrive. Which shows you how many dividends I’ve got in my life (zero). They’re probably wired directly into your accounts in the Caymans. Or something.
Newpapers are having a bit of rough sledding this winter. The Arizona Daily Star laid off 11 of its newsroom staff a couple of weeks ago, and the Star, the morning paper, is the fatter of the two. The Citizen is making cuts as well, and as I hope you have been able to divine from the preceding, I am among the cutees. Cuties, yes – that, too.
This is a bitch to write. Cuteness only gets me part way. I blundered into the newspaper racket at a time when practically anybody with a pulse and a vocabulary in triple digits could get a job.
I barely could type my name, never had taken a journalism course, but I was willing to work for $120 a week (pretax) as long as they let me write news stories like novellas.
They did and I did and the rest was a happy tale interrupted periodically by a fit of principle – mine or theirs – or an offense-taking by a publisher or his wife.
Until now. Now it’s budgetary – cultural, actually. Post-literate America wants to watch the tube: television or the Internet.
Leave me tell you one: The nation ain’t gonna find out what the guys at City Hall, the State House or in D.C. are truly up to, down in the fine print, until newspapers make their inevitable comeback.
And, until that day, this nation will not be an informed, intelligent, participating force in our original government of, by and for the people.
Nor, and this is the scary part, will we be a free people. Men and women with bad intentions will be able to put it over on us. If you think I’m stretching a point, ask yourself just how much of what goes on in Tucson every day is reported live at 5. Or 10.
But – and this is the really scary part – I may be dead before print makes its comeback. Daily, at any rate. There comes a time when the boss says you’re out of a job, and it turns out to be the last time anybody says that
I hope this is not that time, but optimism sometimes runs into things.
It’s been a fun 40 years: Have a nice life.
Columnist Jeff Smith says Jeffyboy is a hell of a thing to call a man just a month shy of his 62nd birthday. But then immaturity has ever been his sustaining gift. He may be reached by calling (520) 455-5667 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.