Shortly after I was hired in 1989 by the Yuma Daily Sun as a cub reporter, the city editor assigned me to cover the county fair.
That’s right. All I had to do for the next three days was walk around the county fair and come back with a daily story.
I bungee jumped, went to the hypnotist show and forked over 50 cents to see “the world’s largest hog.” I couldn’t believe I got paid to go to the fair, including reimbursement of the two quarters I paid to see the big pig.
I knew then that I made the right career choice and never regretted it in the two decades that followed. Not every assignment has been a day at the fair. But I have met countless interesting people and have learned something new just about every day on the job.
That’s my long-winded way of getting to goodbye. Though the Tucson Citizen will continue to publish until May 9 and possibly well beyond, this will be my last column.
My next job is not in journalism. So this is where I get off of a thrilling 20-year ride.
During four years in Yuma as a general assignment reporter, I wrote about everything. Fires. Floods. Murders. Trials. Elections. Drug addiction. You name it.
I took on the persona of “the desert lizard” to pen a weekly entertainment column.
I wrote about the death of activist César Chávez in 1993 and visited the home in San Luis where he died. I arrived as a hearse was driving away with his body. A woman wailed from the crowd that had gathered, “No te vayas. No te vayas.”
Don’t go. Don’t go.
When the Citizen hired me in November 1993 to cover higher education, I was thrilled to be back home. I was also a nervous wreck, eager to do well or at least not mess up.
I took printouts of my stories home everyday and would triple or quadruple check them, underlining each sentence in red ink and circling things I wanted to change. I drove the night editors crazy, calling multiple times each evening to correct or improve the article before it was published the next day.
Despite my lack of confidence, my editors had confidence in me and offered me lots of opportunities over the years, allowing me to grow into the job.
I filled in regularly on the editing desk, which helped me become a better reporter. And I moved from covering higher education to the science beat and then to the medical beat.
I’d like to think that I occasionally made a difference. As a health reporter, I enjoyed writing about research and medical advances. But I also reported on the shortcomings in our medical system, from doctor shortages that affected the quality of care we receive to the lack of access to healthcare for many people in our community.
My coverage of the restraint-related death of psychiatric patient Wendy Gazda at Kino Hospital in 2003 helped to publicize the underlying deficiencies in patient care that existed at the hospital. When you shine a spotlight on such things, they get fixed.
It would be a lie to say I loved every minute of the job. But I’ve been part of a family here. And I’ve sure had a lot of fun.
In 1997, when the Citizen was flush with cash, it sent me to Roswell, N.M., for five days to cover the 50th anniversary of “the Roswell incident,” the alleged crash of a spaceship filled with aliens near the town in 1947.
When the University of Arizona men’s basketball team played for the national championship earlier in 1997, I was sent to Indianapolis to help cover the Final Four – mostly fluff pieces about the fans. During the championship game, in a space of less than one hour, I crossed paths with Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Gen. Colin Powell and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Heck yeah, I was star struck.
In 2005, then-Publisher Michael Chihak took a chance and promoted me, along with C.T. Revere, to the position of metro columnist. I think he knew from experience that I would speak truth to power.
I’ve tried to do that and I haven’t regretted any column I’ve written – just the ones I didn’t write.
I’ve ticked off a lot of people over the last four years, which means I’ve done my job.
The position, more than any I’d ever held before, opened up a constant dialogue with Tucson Citizen readers, who reached me though phone calls, e-mail and the Wild West that is our online comment community.
Thanks to the many of you who have been so kind and generous with your praise over the years. You gave me the courage to keep doing what I was doing.
And to my loyal following of folks who love to hate me, well, thanks for being regular readers.
Life will be a little less exciting without you.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and 573-4582. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767.