Tell us about your Citizen

(The Tucson Citizen will cease publication on March 21, 2009. This date will remain a very dark day in publishing history…)

(Anyway, the Citizen solicited anecdotes from the public about the newspaper through the years. The following is my submission.)

What the Citizen has meant to me? I grew up with the Citizen – Dad would buy it on the way home from work, or we would have a subscription, it generally flip-flopped depending on what year it was. When I got to high school at Salpointe Catholic (class of ’90), the Citizen was my go-to for daily events and for research papers for class. Looking back, reading the newspaper actually helped me improve my reading – I see that as I try to get my own kids to read more, and having a daily newspaper in the house helps considerably. I remember reading the John Jennings columns and thinking “How funny is that”. I even ended up taking karate classes with his daughter for a while – never making the connection that she was HIS daughter until years later. (And when John was arrested in that prostitution sting, I felt really let-down, like a member of the family had committed the crime.)

My first “real” (non-University of Arizona affiliated) job was at TNI Partners. I was the one that converted everyone’s PC from running Windows 3.1 and TECS2 to Windows 95 (but still with TECS2… hey, I couldn’t make you guys use Word yet 🙂 ) I was the one that helped Joel move in to the 20th century with everyone getting an email address (first initial, last name – although Pam Hartman was the exception because “phartman” didn’t look or sound right). I spent countless hours upgrading PCs, showing people how to surf the web (CT Revere comes to mind), showing people how to use email as a tool and resource, and even occasionally going to reporters’ homes and setting up their home computers to dial in to azstarnet. I would work early mornings at the beginning of the week, and there were occasional “My computer crashed and I need to submit my story in ten minutes!” cries for help – I think near the end of my tenure with TNI that I had gotten into the habit of hanging around in the newsroom about an hour before deadline JUST in case someone had an issue that needed immediate attention.

I got to see the inside of the vaunted Citizen, the inner workings, and I was completely impressed. I got to see the inner workings of the Star, and I was completely let down – the Star never seemed to be a happy place to work. When I walked over there, I never got that vibe, that feeling that people wanted to be there, that people knew the tradition of excellence. Instead, I got the “ho hum, another day at the grind”. When I walked into the Citizen, someone ALWAYS said “hi”. Didn’t matter who, and it was usually someone different every day, but you got the feeling that the Citizen was a family. I got to see first-hand how the downtown office (Teibel!!) worked, and the satellite offices worked. I got to see the real innards of a newspaper and finally understood the impact that a newspaper has on a community. I took photography classes in HS and college and seeing how the photo department was set up was just amazing. (To this day it still is – just with newer technology!) Meeting Corky Simpson and Steve Rivera and having daily conversations with them about things OTHER than sports – that was always a trip.

When I announced I was leaving, Don Hatfield, the editor/publisher, asked if there was anything he could do to change my mind to leave TNI for a job in Mesa, and I truly believe that if he could have justified the cost of having his own IT person instead of using the TNI personnel, he would have. Heck, TNI didn’t do anything more than give me a handshake and a “see you later – good luck”, but the Citizen staffers threw me a going away party. I still have the gi-normous card signed by everyone.

My then-fiancee (and now wife of 12 years) ended up getting a job for the Citizen proper, working in the Library with Jeannie and Charlotte. And when Don Hatfield’s assistant took vacation, or was out sick, she was asked to step in. And she enjoyed her work. She enjoyed going in to work, and she has always told me that leaving there was probably her biggest regret in her professional life. She knew it wasn’t ever going to be the biggest paycheck in the world, but that was a place that she could do an honest day’s work and feel good about herself for it.

I always had hoped that my kids would be able to someday go back and visit and really understand “Hey, Daddy and Mommy used to work here” – and I’ve made a couple of visits before with the kids (as babies), but now, sadly, I won’t get that chance any more.

When I first heard about the Citizen’s possible “demise”, I immediately wrote a comment on the online board detailing a solution that had been successful for the East Valley Tribune – online 24×7, cut print size in half to tabloid size, cut the total size of the paper down to two sections, and publish a print version only four days a week. (perma-link here) I had hoped that would help, but I guess no one from Gannett took that seriously (or even read it). That’s a shame – the Citizen represents Tucson, but Gannett doesn’t see that.

So, what has the Citizen meant to me? The Citizen is a huge part of my life – it arguably shaped the person I am today, both because of what was printed, and because of the people behind it. Not many people can say that, and I take pride in knowing I’m in select company. I wear my Tucson Citizen baseball cap with pride. It’s blue (same color as those vaunted letters on the front page), hasn’t faded much, but it’s a great reminder of what examples I need to set for my kids.

I read the Citizen every day still, even from Queen Creek, AZ. I will miss it when it goes away.