More Star Gazing

To the Editor,

The Arizona Daily Star is not, as Steve Emerine was quoted as saying in "Catch a Falling Star" (July 19), "the only game in town." Although it is often hard to tell from reading the Weekly, Tucson has two daily newspapers. This, I believe, means that Tucson newspaper readers are luckier than readers in many other cities.

Then again, I'm biased: I'm an assistant city editor at the other "game" in town, the Tucson Citizen.

I know that many Tucsonans wrongly assume that the morning Star and the afternoon Citizen are two versions of the same paper. They are not. They are not owned by the same company and they are not produced by the same staffs.

While the two papers share a business office, a press and (separate wings of) the same building, the Star and the Citizen compete for news. We each scramble for facts, anecdotes and insights in our own way. The result is that on any given day, what the papers write about and how they write about it can be very different.

The fact that Tucson is a two-newspaper town is an important one. Not too many are left. Newspaper readers in cities considerably larger than ours don't have what some Tucsonans and the Tucson Weekly might take for granted: a choice.

And some cities are really lucky. They have two alternative newspapers, as well.

--C.J. Karamargin

To the Editor,

Why do I dislike the Arizona Daily Star?

An evil power company wants to build a gigantic power plant just north of Tucson, encircled on three sides by the new Ironwood Forest National Monument, Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona's only Civil War battlefield, and the DeAnza National Historic Trail. The power is for the wholesale market and will likely be shipped around the West or to Mexico via the giant proposed PNM power line project that will affect Ironwood, Saguaro National Park, the Desert Museum, Coronado National Forest, etc.

The area has subsided 8 to 15 feet due to groundwater pumping and is crossed by numerous subsidence fissures, some big enough to swallow cows, vehicles, small children, etc. The plant will pump out another 10,000 acre feet of water a year from the basin, enough for a small city. The site sits in the 100-year floodplain of the Santa Cruz.

The power company wants to bribe Eloy with a new ambulance, the Pinal County Sheriff's Department with new squad cars, and the BLM (ironically) for money for new trails in the Monument.

Then there's the emission of hundreds of tons per year of nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, carbon dioxide, ammonium sulfates and miscellaneous volatile organic compounds into our air.

Is this a story or what?

And during the Power Plant and Line Siting hearing, one of the intervenors wins (should the plant actually be built) funding for an endowed research chair at the UA. This is a local story affecting an important local institution.

And no one knows about it. Why?

No reporter showed up at the hearing. Four Daily Star reporters are yanked off the story one after the other. E-mails and phone calls to the paper go unanswered. I finally e-mail, then telephone the so-called "Reader Advocate," Maria Parham. After repeated attempts and messages left, I finally get the voice of the elusive "advocate": "Oh, uh, um, whenever I go to ask someone about it, they're always gone. Uh, I'll have to get back to you." Then, silence. For weeks. And no story.

My tree-hugger friends tell me the way it works in Arizona is, the power company goes to the paper and says hey, you treat us nice, there's advertising money in it for you later on. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Normally I'd pass on this conspiracy theory claptrap, but either it's true and the paper has been bought off, or the Star is run by incompetent morons who wouldn't know a timely and important local story if it was handed to them on a plate, which this was. Either way, it's a pretty sorry outfit.

So what other important local stories are they simply ignoring? It's kind of scary to think about, isn't it?

--Jon Shumaker

Editor's note: The Weekly, at least, covered this issue in its July 5 cover feature, "The Next Generation."

To the Editor,

Your excellent article about the ineptitude of the Arizona Daily Star was exactly on target.

In addition to the factors you mention, the newspaper consistently editorializes news with slanted headlines, and omits critical facts from the editorial page itself. Any pretense of objectivity has long since faded away.

Moreover, the part of your critique that resonates the most is the Star's sophomoric writing. Simply stated, it's my belief that their newspaper does not have the horsepower to pull the wagon.

Though Tucson has many advantages as a community, like the management of the city and county governments, the newspaper itself is a source of embarrassment. Its overall impression suggests it is nothing more than a third-rate publication trying desperately to be second-rate.

--Tim Serey

To the Editor,

As a proudly disgruntled former employee of the Star (features freelancer, movie reviewer, features reporter and part of the Caliente redesign team), and one of the first rats off that rapidly sinking ship (James Reel, by my count, was first off), I have several things to add to your quite tasty analysis of what's happened to the paper.

However, journalistic integrity and common sense (fresh and exciting concepts) demand that I first reveal my biases.

I was effectively hired, encouraged and protected at the Star by the then Starlight editor, the ubiquitous Mr. Reel (with whom, however, I have not spoken for several years; I was not a source for the Weekly's article, nor have I ever been one). It has always been my belief that I was finally hired as full-time movie reviewer over the dead body of Managing Editor Bobbie Jo Buel.

I was effectively fired by Buel on a typically frantic but otherwise normal August afternoon in 1999. I was called into Buel's office by Bobbie Jo and Maria Parham, where I was handed what I felt was a ludicrous letter of reprimand to sign, or else. The problem was that I'd stacked up five corrections in eight weeks - Elizabeth Hurley worked for Estée Lauder, not Elizabeth Arden, and the original The Thomas Crown Affair was made in 1968, not the early '70s. Now I know. They staged my personal Scary Letter Psychodrama (a familiar scenario to many Star staffers, I'm afraid), two days before my kind and sensible immediate boss, Features Editor Debbie Kornmiller, returned from a three-week vacation. Buel, it seemed to me, was trying either to humiliate me or to make me resign in this window of opportunity. I obliged her by instantly doing the latter.

Even at the time, surprised as I was, I felt her action to be an enormous, if clearly unintentional, personal favor. I was over-worked, exhausted, deeply discouraged by the mean, messy way the place was run and exasperated by the fact that my face was plastered all over the paper in ever-ballooning house ads, in spite of my objections. Oh, yeah, and I was also completely sick of the movies. (To this day, I don't go.) In short, I wanted out of the job, but was too fond of too many of my colleagues and too committed to making Caliente a success to walk away without help. So, actually, I owe a lot to Bobbie Jo, and I know it. (I now have a much better job working for clinically sane people.) Thanks, hon.

While working on Caliente, consultant Chris Urban's representative, Ellen Gardner, longtime former features editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, became one of my dearest friends. She still is.

My husband and I subscribe to the daily New York Times, but we also still take the Star, which he reads for the sports, the comics, Bonnie Henry and Dave Barry. Since the voices of those few of my terrific former colleagues who remain have become so muffled, I mostly read it for the pure schadenfreude of it all. I delight in the typos, the stories cut off in mid-sentence, the formatting errors on the front page (still having those pesky Quark problems, aren't we?), the My Weekly Reader headlines, the sloppily Photoshopped art, the full-page ads for herbal impotence cures, and, of course, that deliciously awful Ernesto Portillo Jr. (Ed and I like to see who can guess from the headline exactly how many grafs in the tears will start to trickle.)

But most of all, I now read the Star for the corrections. Occasionally, as a test of their zero-tolerance "No error goes uncorrected!" policy, I mark and clip a factual error and send it in anonymously to see if it shows up. Oddly, not one has so far. (Well, except for the breathtaking Lonesome Dove misattribution in Dry Heat, but I was one among throngs on that one.)

Well, hey, enough about me. On to my argument.

I think that you're putting too much blame on Jane Amari for the paper's disintegration. (Remember all the rotten things--mainly true--you guys said about the Star long before she showed?) Bobbie Jo Buel has been and always will be the man behind the curtain, and she'll still be there after Amari walks the plank for the Star's long slide. (It happened to Steve Auslander, and Jane, it's gonna happen to you.)

I got a pretty good look at Buel in action during the redesign. She stays out of the strong light while practicing a management technique popular among administrators whose work is all about power, not the organization, the people or the product: She systematically keeps those under her demoralized, disorganized and off-kilter. She hires the mediocre, rewards the subservient, coddles the dysfunctional and eventually gets rid of anyone she suspects could be smarter than she is. And nothing, nothing, can dislodge her. As a friend once observed, at the end of World War III, two life forms will survive. One is the common cockroach and the other is the Star's managing editor. (Can you tell I'm not looking for a job there, ever?) As for the objectivity of this assessment, please see above.

Second, Chris Urban and her people are really not to blame, either. The mostly sound, no-nonsense advice Urban and Associates gave the Star has been largely ignored or subverted. Urban told the Star's editors that, to survive, the paper had to recapture the young, middle-class center of Tucson--including that mysterious, densely populated zone of literate non-subscribers known as the UA--and that it could do that only by providing accurate, fair, vigorous reporting of what really goes on in and around Tucson--and why.

Urban also told the paper that to establish credibility, it had to get out of bed with its biggest advertisers, or at least not loll around in there so obviously, and that it had to keep its editorial page from contaminating news stories. For shining examples of how enthusiastically the Star has followed these instructions, please search the online archive under topics heads "El Con Mall," "arson" + "Pima Canyon," and "Walkup, Bob." (I have heard Buel disparage Molly McKasson in the newsroom and predict dire consequences for Tucson should she ever be elected).

In short, Urban and Associates did try to make the Star a more respectable paper. I believe that the shakeup could have made it better, instead of worse, had there been someone running the Star who wanted the changes to work.

--Renée Downing

To the Editor,

Wow, folks. Am I amazed! First, let me say it was a pleasure to see many of my old professors and some student colleagues quoted regarding the continuing problems of an American newspaper in these days of declining circulation, rising costs, reduction in staffs, and fractured audiences. We seem to have all of that where I work, so no one newspaper is suffering alone. It only seems that way when you're working at one.

Here, at the Beaumont Enterprise in Texas, we have to make decisions about what to cover because, some days, we can't get to everything. And we have to make decisions about where to put what we can cover, because the space is just not there. And we have an aggressive little weekly competing with us that nips at our heels and sometimes takes chunks from our legs.

I look at daily journalism this way: We've got a 365-game season every year. We try to do better each game. Obviously, some days are going to be worse than others. It's messy, but it reflects who we are. But lack of staff can't be an excuse.

Once upon a time, the business desk, where I work, had two reporters. We're now down to just me. The business editor is on vacation right now, so it really is down to just me. If I'm not agile, then my continued existence here is fragile.

Perhaps it's fortunate that the Enterprise is owned by a privately held company, so that old threat about performing for stockholders can't be leveled against us. We had massive layoffs 10 years ago when almost half of the newsroom was slaughtered. The living envied the dead, for awhile. Then we went back to work.

What's good is that a valuable reporter, and I like to think of myself as valuable, can usually persuade an editor to get the hell out of the way so we can all keep the focus where it's supposed to be--which is on responsible coverage and how it affects readers. After 25 years in this business, however, I still hate editors. But I grudgingly concede that we have to have 'em, the bastards. What's sweet is outlasting the bad ones.

--Dan Wallach

Chax Stick

To the Editor,

Thanks to Margaret Regan for her lively and informative preview ("What's Love Got to Do with It?," July 26)) of the Chax Press-sponsored poetry event (with a little music provided by Imo Baird on accordion) at the Tucson/Pima Arts Council Gallery. The event drew a full house and good poetry was heard by all. However, I need to correct a couple of the article's misrepresentations.

First, I had told the author that Robert Creeley's For Love was one of the best-selling poetry books of the 1960s, not that it was probably the "best-selling poetry book ever," which the article stated.

Second, Chax Press did not publish Steven Kranz's Predicting the Future with Fish, which Kranz himself published. During a telephone conversation, Margaret Regan specifically asked me if Chax Press had published the book by Kranz, and I answered, "No." So I'm not certain where the misunderstanding crept in.

Finally, despite my verbal request in that phone interview that the photograph of Steinfeld Warehouse artists (Chax Press is located in the Steinfeld Warehouse, and the poetry event took place in the gallery where an exhibition of those artists was installed) be credited to Kathryn Wilde, and despite my written request, when I delivered the photograph, that it be so credited, and despite the copyright notice to Wilde on the back of the photograph, no such credit appeared. Tucson photographer Wilde went out of her way to take photographs of the Steinfeld Warehouse artists and space before the exhibition was installed, and she deserves our thanks and credit, and the attachment of her name to her work upon publication.

--Charles Alexander