Pardon me while I catch my breath. I’ve never been let go from a job before.
I suppose it’s something just to be able to say that, after 40-plus years in an industry as volatile as journalism. Gaining new experiences has always been one of the joys of practicing this craft that I love so much. Thus far, this particular new experience ranks somewhere below, say, interviewing terrorists, riding in planes with former drug runners, or finding out you and your teammates have won a Pulitzer Prize.
Publisher Lee Newquist told me the news a few days ago. He said that, given the changes that are taking place in our business, it’s time that I part company with Fort Worth Weekly. He’s not mad at me, he said, and he appreciates the work I’ve done over the last 14 years in our little hard-scrabble, scraped-knuckles shop. It’s just time for a change.
He hasn’t told me yet what that means for the paper, beyond my departure. That will be for him and my successor to say. I may continue to write for the Weekly from time to time.
But I can tell you it’s been a great ride for me and, I hope, for our readers.
Before I came to the Weekly in 2001, I had almost always worked for daily papers. My only prior experience with non-dailies had been my second job out of college, with the scrappy Austin Citizen, now many years defunct. I found the same thing to be true at the Citizen as I would find many years later at the Weekly: that while your employer might not have anywhere near the resources of the big boys, the satisfaction — in telling stories that need to be told and being an integral part of making democracy and communities work — is every bit as great.
In the last decade and a half, the news industry has indeed gone through major upheavals. Many newspapers and magazines have folded; others have made repeated staff reductions and cut back on all sorts of coverage. During that time, I believe, our paper and other alternative news weeklies around the country have become more important than ever in reporting on critical issues for our country and the whole globe.
I’m very proud of the work we’ve done at the Weekly during my tenure. We were one of the first news organizations in the country to begin to explore the downside of shale gas development. Our reporters — including the late, inimitable Betty Brink — exposed corruption in the school district and at city hall, helped bring down sexual predators, shone a light on questionable spending and governance in places like the Tarrant Regional Water District and Tarrant County College, and described the horrors at the women’s medical center and prison camp at the Carswell military base. On so many occasions, we gave a voice to those who had struck out in the halls of power and with other news organizations. And we told some damn good tales, from Jeff Prince explaining how Willie Nelson shaped his world to Karen Gavis bringing readers the gripping story of a young Texan and his bride dealing with the onslaught of Ebola in Sierra Leone.
You can see from all this that I’m old school — the importance of a free press is kind of my religion, whether the news is delivered and promoted on newsprint or slick paper, by broadcast, podcast, or social media. Those things change, and we try to change with them. The need for what we do doesn’t change.
Which brings me back to Lee Newquist. He and I are very different. But through the years, Lee has kept the Weekly’s doors open and allowed those of us on the news side, with very few exceptions, to make the decisions about what needed covering and how to cover it.
It’s been my privilege to work with some wonderful people, including not only great reporters and other staffers at the paper, but talented freelancers, world-beating interns, and gutsy sources. In other words, people who were courageous, dogged, and cared deeply about things like justice, equality, human rights, honest government, and our shared future.
Thank you all.