This is a sad time for newspapers. It is also a sad time for me.
Since losing a newspaper is much like a death in the family, the fact that the Tucson Citizen is ceasing publication has left me with a feeling of crippling loss. Within a day or two of the first announcement in February, I found myself in denial, the first of five stages of grief as outlined in “On Death and Dying,” the 1969 bestseller by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
I told myself that this could not be happening, because belts were tightened and there had been assurances by Gannett that the paper was safe after the latest round of cuts. My denial was quickly followed by anger, a red, hot rage. How could corporate America be so heartless?
Even though my pain was deep, I wasn’t alone in feeling such despair. One afternoon as I left the paper, I saw a colleague in the parking lot, crying. Nothing I could ever say would lessen the pain that we both felt. As I drove home that afternoon, I wondered if corporate executives ever think about the impact their decisions have on people? Profits are important but what about the cost in human terms of the people who make those profits possible?
As time marched on, I found myself playing out various scenarios in my head. Perhaps, if the skeleton staff at the Tucson Citizen worked a little harder, or if a buyer could be found, maybe, just maybe, the paper could be saved. Not even I believed that.
A week or two later, the depression I had deepened even further when I read a sampling of hateful postings from our readers who seemed jubilant the paper was on life support and probably would not survive. Why do some people feed on the calamity of others? What joy is there when people lose their jobs and possibly their homes? It was shortly after that when I realized I didn’t care anymore. Maybe closing the paper was for the best.
Gallows humor was one of the last stages I experienced and then came acceptance.
When the last issue of the paper rolls off the presses, I have prepared myself emotionally for whatever happens. Nevertheless, there remains an empty feeling, and I am sad.
Memory can be comforting, especially during difficult times. I originally arrived on the doorstep of the Tucson Citizen because of a promise I had made to myself years before. I vowed I would never work for either a person or a company I didn’t respect.
After being treated rather shabbily at another publication in Tucson, I quit. Because I love writing and it is an important part of my life, my next move was to meet with Michael Chihak, the editor and publisher of the Tucson Citizen. After a brief conversation that lasted no more than five minutes, I was hired one autumn day in 2002. I agreed to write two weekly columns that would continue until Michael no longer found they fit the paper or I decided the work was no longer fun. That was the totality of our agreement. We shook hands and I began my work as a columnist at Arizona’s oldest daily newspaper.
For the last seven years, I have had more than just fun working for the paper. The friends I have made there will continue to be my friends even though the paper that brought us together will soon be nothing more than microfilm and dusty clips.
I love newspapers. I get excited when I hear the crackle of police radios, hear a reporter doing a telephone interview, or see the latest issues hot off the presses. What made the Tucson Citizen so extraordinary was the sense of family that existed in the newsroom. Simply put, the Tucson Citizen is and was a special place and it will always be so in my heart and memory.
Because this isn’t a perfect world, there are things that I won’t miss. At the top of my list are the mean-spirited anonymous comments posted by what I hope are a small minority of our readers. More often than not, the comments are vile and racist and have no place in a civilized society.
Even topping those comments is a personal e-mail that I received several years ago. After reading one of my book reviews, a woman called me a “liberal pus-sucking pig.” As if that wasn’t enough, she ended her little poison pen message by saying that she hoped I died of cancer. If she had wanted a bull’s-eye hit, she got it. I received this message just three days after I had returned to Arizona from burying my mother in Arkansas. Mom died after three terrible years fighting cancer. I consider myself a strong person but I remember even now how I wept after reading that hateful e-mail.
This finally brings me to the end.
Goodbyes are never easy and I hate saying them. I’ve had to say too many of them in my lifetime. There are so many things I could say and so many people I should thank but, as the closing of this proud old newspaper has taught me, there is never enough time.
I am sad.