“Boy, oh, boy.”
That was a stock phrase for Jim Gintonio, who died of cancer last Sunday at the age of 65. You don’t know him, and it doesn’t matter, because this is about another illness.
When I joined the Phoenix Gazette in 1985, they put to me work on an edition called the Blue Streak. I used to think it was called that because everyone cussed one when assigned to it. The deadline was 7 a.m., meaning we had to be at work much sooner. Gintonio was the editor, and he’d arrive at midnight. I’d stumble in at 3:30 to edit copy and bang out headlines along with another copy editor. You have to care about the news to get up at that hour.
Like seemingly everyone in Phoenix, Gintonio was from somewhere else – an Ohioan to the core. Loved the Buckeyes, loved the Browns, but was obsessed with the Cleveland Indians. He named a son Rocky, after Rocky Colavito, who was the greatest outfielder of all time. Yeah, you could argue it was Ruth, Aaron or Mays, but not if you ever wanted to move on.
Gintonio was unkempt, unfiltered and endlessly entertaining. He kept up a constant patter, which was quite an achievement because he had a pronounced stutter. You’d think that would make a guy introverted, but not Jimmy G. “Hey, C-c-crooks! What happened to your G-g-iants last night?” He had this marvelous way of egging people on without ticking them off. And yet, nobody taught me more about putting out a newspaper and having fun doing it. Hey, why not? It’s not like we’re in it for the money.
Eventually the Gazette folded, like most afternoon papers, and was merged with the Arizona Republic. We moved to Spokane, and I lost track of Gintonio. He went on to become a sports writer, best known for his coverage of the Phoenix Coyotes. Based on the outpouring following his death, he remained the same character to the end.
News of his death got me thinking about my career – the odd hours, eccentric characters and the adrenaline rush of deadline. But the business itself is ailing. Newsroom employment peaked in 1988, and the Internet has accelerated the decline by shredding the traditional advertising model. On average, $15 in print advertising was lost for every dollar gained in digital advertising last year, according to the Pew Research Center. It wasn’t that long ago that the standard complaint of readers was too many ads. Oh, to have that problem now.
Some experts have begun writing the obituary for newspapers, which is premature, but what would it say? Did we make a difference? Will we be missed? How will people stay informed? There are plenty of places for daily affirmation, but where will people go for confirmation?
I wish more people would think about that. Not because we need the work, but because newspapers matter. And whether delivered digitally or in print, somebody needs to do the reporting, editing, photographing and designing. Google doesn’t do that, though an alarming number of young people think otherwise. It doesn’t matter whether the owner is Jeff Bezos, John Henry, Warren Buffett or any other billionaire, they’ll still need that odd collection of people, like Jim Gintonio, who are passionate about journalism.
Though he died too young, I am aware of this: Gintonio was a newsman from start to finish, and, boy, oh, boy, that sounds terrific.
Love you, too. I get correspondence from readers, and it’s mostly negative. To be expected. It’s anger that generally prompts people to write. Just check the letters to the editor, or most opinion columns. When folks are happy, they usually move on. I’m sure an expert in psychology could explain this.
In any event, I can’t complain. Anyone who takes the time to read a newspaper is pretty great in my eyes.
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