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Gary Crooks: I’m leaving the paper, but I hope you stay

UPDATED: Sun., Dec. 17, 2017, 1:32 p.m.

Gary Crooks will become The Spokesman-Review’s opinion page editor in February 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gary Crooks will become The Spokesman-Review’s opinion page editor in February 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Don’t want to bury the lede, so I’ll get right to it. My last day at The Spokesman-Review is Friday. This position has been eliminated. The decision was purely financial; times remain tough in the newspaper industry. Please be patient as the paper figures out what is next for the Opinion section.

The rest of this column is about me, my career and this perilous point in history for journalism. In other words, indulgent. It’s just something I like to do every 36 years, which is how long I’ve been working at newspapers.

I started off composing ads at the Green Valley News, the weekly paper for a retirement community south of Tucson, Arizona. It wasn’t journalism and I was terrible at it, but it got my foot in the door. I later learned I was on the verge of being fired, when I was moved to the news side to replace a pregnant editor/reporter. It occurs to me that I never thanked her husband.

After two years of copy editing and writing, I moved on to my first daily newspaper: The Mesa Tribune, which later become the East Valley Tribune. After three weeks in Mesa, I was among several people who were laid off. And why were they hiring in the face of layoffs? It remains one of the enduring mysteries of my career.

Nevertheless, I was hired back before I ran out of peanut butter, and I worked there for a year. Then it was off to Tucson, to work at the Arizona Daily Star as a sports copy editor for all of three months. I got a better offer at the Phoenix Gazette, which was the sister paper of the Arizona Republic. The Gazette, an evening paper, folded in the mid-1990s and the staffs were merged.

I held a variety of editing jobs at Phoenix Newspapers. It’s where I met my wife, who later was laid off when she was 8 1/2 months pregnant. It’s a tough business. We both took jobs here in 1997. My wife died in 2006, and I’ve been raising two children ever since.

The Spokesman-Review was very supportive of me through a rough time. My colleagues were amazingly kind, donating Christmas gift cards, delivering meals and contributing to a college fund. Most of them are no longer here, so I’m taking this opportunity to say what I neglected to say back then: Thank you. It meant the world.

This paper gave me a job I always wanted: opinion writer. As a member of the editorial board, I’ve gotten to meet (and question and debate) governors, senators, congressional representatives, mayors, city council members, county commissioners, sheriffs, police chiefs, presidents of universities and passionate political candidates and activists.

It’s been a privileged perch, and I am grateful. However, politics has changed – and not for the better – and the impact on journalism is profound.

The president has called the media “the enemy.” That’s not a label he’s hung on the thuggish leader of Russia, where more than 30 journalists have been murdered since 2000. Before Donald Trump was elected, it was beyond imagining that an American president would single out journalists for attacks or call for them to be fired. But here we are.

The president operates in a separate reality, where he tweets out one falsehood after another. His followers have glommed on to the term “fake news.” Newspapers are needed more than ever to filter out fiction and report the facts. It’s not lost on me that I will soon be in the same position as non-journalists: How to make a difference when you don’t have a media platform?

I want to thank the letter writers and guest columnists who have contributed to this section. I also want to thank the people who have challenged my opinions or sent along messages of encouragement. Either way, it let me know that you are an engaged citizen and, importantly, a reader.

I’m not certain what the future holds, but I am looking forward to a break from daily deadlines. One thing is for sure: I will be reading this newspaper and others.

You should, too.

Opinion Page Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at 459-5026 until Dec. 22. Personal email is garycrooks@comcast.net.


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