As you may have heard, the Citizen is currently publishing day-to-day as our parent company, Gannett Inc., negotiates with a pair of unnamed potential buyers.
We got the news of that negotiation process on St. Patrick’s Day, followed by a note at 4:59 p.m. Friday from Tucson Newspapers president Mike Jameson that we would be open at least through tomorrow. Not knowing when or if the end is coming is tough for many on staff who had plans beyond our scheduled March 21 closing.
While I admit I’m steamed that Gannett didn’t bother to share the information that it is bartering a possible 11th-hour save for the Citizen, I’m also glad we’re not gone yet.
As most of you know, my prime responsibility these days is creating video content for our Web site – something I’ve enjoyed immensely. But for the past few weeks, with the help of interns Brian Mori and Heather Raftery, I’ve been interviewing the staff in preparation of a Tucson Citizen farewell video to run if/when the paper expires.
We’re been asking staffers when they started with the paper, what jobs they’ve held here over the years, what they’ve enjoyed most and are most proud of, how they feel about the paper’s demise and what they think they might do next.
Not surprisingly, many of the answers to certain questions come out the same. Many feel that what they’ve done for the Citizen has been their dream job – something that never felt like work despite the grueling hours and personal sacrifice involved. And almost everyone said that the best part of the job was the people we work with.
It’s true. This crew is like family. When the sports guys keep the copy desk and editing folk late on a Friday night, nobody’s mad about it, even if it is 2 a.m. or later when we get out. We know that what they do is important, and that if we needed their help until late for something else they’d pitch right in.
We know one another’s actual families. We’ve watched staffers kids grow up, and sometimes had to bury a few of those kids way too soon. Everyone’s personal trials were shared by the rest. I’d like a dime for every time a Citizen staffer stepped up to help me feel better when I went through a rough time. When a crew member had a baby, got married or was just experiencing a financial hardship, we all pitched in what we could. When someone took a new job or moved away because a spouse got a new job, a party was held and another collection taken up.
Several of our sportswriters talked about the personal bond they had with their department members, many of whom had known one another since they were in college at the University of Arizona together.
Probably the most touching story I recorded was from Elsa Barrett, who has been the Citizen’s utility fielder for longer than most of us have been here. She told about going through an ugly divorce that left her broke, miserable and foundering to put her life back together. She was trying to buy a house in the middle of all of this, and having trouble coming up with the down payment. A grumpy old dude who, I’m sure, would rather remain nameless, quietly came to her and handed her an envelope full of cash. Serious cash. He told her she could work out paying him back any way she saw fit.
Now that’s family. And while none of the rest of us was that specific and revealing, most of us have a similar story of unexpected kindness beyond what might be expected.
I’ve only had one other job in my life where I came to love the people I worked with as much as I do these folks. From the mid-1970s until the mid-’80s I worked for a record store in El Con called Record Bar with a supremely elegant crew. One or two of them I run into every now and then. One in particular, who calls herself Mel, comments from time to time on my columns. I don’t see her often but when I do it’s like seeing a sister who moved too far away. It’s a shame that we don’t all keep more in touch – something I need to correct ASAP.
Thinking of that makes our current state of flux all that much harder.
My life at this newspaper has been so much more than a paycheck. It’s been the love affair that I’ve had with this amazing, diverse and wonderfully talented community. And it’s been the family I’ve developed right here at 4850 S. Park Ave. I was raised Irish Catholic, so I’m used to big families. Going through what we have over the past few months has made it ever clearer how much we all mean to one another.
I hope somehow the Citizen does get saved and that you never have to see that farewell video. But if we do survive, I hope to re-edit some of that footage so that Tucson can see what a wonderful family exists here. We tell the city’s stories all the time. Maybe it’s time we told a few of our own.