In 1986, the Gannett Co., owner of the Tucson Citizen, asked me to come to Tucson as editor and publisher. I was then editor and publisher of the Huntington (W.Va.) Herald-Dispatch, also a Gannett paper.
I was eager to make the move even though my wife, Sandy, and I would be leaving family and coming to a city we had never seen and where we knew no one. I promised her we would return East to family in four years max.
We stayed for more than 21.
Fourteen of those years were spent with the Citizen, until my retirement in June 2000. And they were very special years.
The Citizen was not a newspaper that needed to be “fixed” when I arrived. It was an excellent paper with a solid reputation and, as the oldest newspaper in Arizona, an outstanding history.
It had won prizes, produced top-notch investigative stories and harbored many outstanding writers. Its staff possessed, I thought, a rare feeling for the culture of the community it served. It showed in their work.
Newsrooms are a strange conglomeration of diverse individuals of different backgrounds and contrasting views, some with huge egos, some quite unassuming.
They’re made up of talented and creative people who enjoy their work, though most won’t admit it, and they tend to be an irreverent bunch. Despite their differences, they have one wonderful thing in common: They want to find out what’s going on and tell readers about it.
That’s the kind of news staff I found at the Citizen.
We thought of ourselves as the local-emphasis newspaper, the paper that cared most about Tucson. Our motto was, “The Citizen IS Tucson,” and one of our promotions remarked “If you care about Tucson, you have to read the Citizen.”
We covered the local scene like no one else. We expanded our coverage of the arts, sports, business and of what were then referred to as “minorities.”
We held neighborhood meetings to find out what people were thinking and town meetings for teenagers.
We revealed to readers the problems of a cracking Hoover Dam and the crowded unregulated skies over the Grand Canyon. We followed the Arizona Wildcats.
We interviewed the known and the unknown. We met with legends and heroes – think Mo Udall and John McCain.
I cannot tell you what it was like to look up from my desk one of my first days on the job to see Udall, who had come by to welcome me to Arizona. And I enjoyed getting to know McCain as more than a senator and future presidential hopeful.
And Sen. Dennis DeConcini, with whose family my wife and I became close friends.
It was special to know many of those who contributed so much to the community in so many ways – people like Roy Drachman and Jim Click as well as Ray Clarke, Fred Acosta and Lorraine Lee, to name just a few.
I like to think we put out some very good newspapers, that we were strong but fair, respected even when criticized, and that we were a valuable part of people’s lives.
I also like to think we had fun doing it. I know I did.
Serving as the Citizen’s editor and publisher was an honor. And living in Tucson was truly a blessing. It was and is a special place.
And we made special friends. Allen Beigel. Joan Kaye Cauthorn. Drs. John and Helen Schaefer. Stanley and Norma Feldman. So many others. We cannot imagine never having known them.
I have thought a lot about the Citizen since my retirement: the challenges that were faced, the stories that were published – some tough, some touching – the good days and the bad. Now the Citizen’s final chapter is being written. And there is great sadness in its passing. Nobody wants to see a newspaper die, especially this one. For it signals the end of an era, and it creates a void in the community that will not be filled.
But I can tell you that all those who have worn the Citizen’s colors can look back with great pride.
Gracias, Citizen staffers throughout the years. Gracias, Tucson.
Don Hatfield is retired and lives in Huntington, W.Va. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org