I walked on fire for this place, a piece of cake compared to guessing which day we were going to die. Or not. Buyers invited to visit the place didn’t bother. We continued “day by day.” Just like real life.
My career here started in 1980, after a decade of change as tumultuous as this one. The Citizen had moved, changed owners and converted to computers.
At 20, spoiled for honest work by a stint at a college paper, I drove to 4850 S. Park Ave. to talk to my uncle’s poker buddy. Then-Features Editor Dick Vonier told me what my creative writing degree was worth and sat me down at a typewriter to rewrite my résumé.
Seventeen years later a couple of co-workers and I sat at Dick’s kitchen table, trying, though not very hard, to talk him out of his last bender.
This by way of saying the Citizen has been, if not the love of my life, by far my most enduring commitment.
Just ask my ex-husband.
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: I got a job as a clerk and begged copy editors to let me write headlines. One of them, known for once accidentally setting his hair on fire, ended up in a coma. I offered to fill in. How was I supposed to know he’d died that morning?
After that, the bosses found me an editing position. I started with the new section Calendar and in 1983 was made editor of Bulletin Board, a weeky zoned publication delivered to all area households.
For arcane legal reasons, Bulletin Board had to be an “edition” of the Citizen, outside the ordinary chain of command. I couldn’t, by law, have a boss.
Leaving me free to work my own hours and follow real reporters around. Especially one.
DUCK AND CHICK: This guy walks in with a brilliant magazine-length piece and Dick tells him we can’t use it. He goes home, writes another brilliant story and comes back the next day. This one ran, and Chuck Bowden was hired.
Bowden tolerated me as a kind of apprentice. I’d tag along on interviews and he would invent assignments for me, even dragged me to the gym. Journalism takes stamina.
Chuck and Dick and Picture Editor P.K. Weis were among my many mentors, illustrating every day the power of observation, language and frozen instants in time.
When I wrote a front-page piece about a storefront dance club an editor attached a snotty comment: “Non-Bowden byline CQ (correct).”
I took it as a compliment.
DESK HOPPING: I had skipped the usual reporter-to-editor sequence and needed to back up. I covered the county and city ably enough but rarely with the grit and patience to do it expertly.
We started to lose our investigative edge when our most hardnosed reporters – like Jim Wyckoff and Mark Kimble – became editors. All of us had a learning curve. Frustrated by the “he said, she said” rhythm of reporting, I longed to get to the bottom of things but rarely did.
I landed on the city desk and did a stint at USA TODAY as the token Westerner – and conservative. Just because I didn’t think every problem had a government solution.
Back here, two years on the features desk burned me out on managing people. I never knew where their jobs ended and mine began.
I fell hard in ’96, lost my driver’s license and joined Dick’s support group (he died in 1997).
And I got demoted to the copy desk. Finally I was where I wanted to be.
RECENTLY: From days to nights, copy desk to the city desk, back to the copy desk. Setting the alarm for 2:30 a.m. or 4 p.m. Ducking out of Thanksgiving dinner or arriving late on Christmas Eve – typical newspaper stuff.
And, for the past couple of years, doing this column, riding herd on the Web site and student teaching at Cholla High Magnet School.
On vacation or on assignment, I traveled and saw the world. I stay at home and see it too.
As long as I’ve worked here, I’ve learned. Whether I wanted to or not.
NOW: A few unemployed journalists may not amount to a hill of beans. Ninety percent of what we do is – not, fluff, exactly, but superfluous. Opinions, entertainment, sports. National news, available anywhere. Almost all of it free, not counting the Net connection.
But still we lose something with every demise. Newspapers have the staff, if not always the will, to ferret out embarrassing information local governments don’t want published. To pursue documents revealing whether Lute Olson got special treatment. And to hold big businesses – like Citizen owner Gannett Co. Inc. – at least somewhat accountable for previous statements.
Thanks to Assistant City Editor Mark Evans for reviving that hunger here.
Financing the dogged tenacity to nail that stuff is a lot more important than polishing prose or rewriting press releases.
A born cynic, and most days I still believe: Truth will find a way to be told.
I just don’t know how anymore.