We had a lively give-and-take in the comments section of the most recent post. It began when Joe offered this comment:
My aim has been to achieve the best in hard-hitting newspaper news-opinion column writing, a special and dying craft outside of a few places. I often fall short. But at its best this involves trenchant writing, a distinctive and compelling voice, backed by the facts (as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "you are entitled to your own opinion but you are not entitled to your own facts."), analysis, context and pointed commentary. Most newspapers have spent years making their columnists bland — or limiting their cannon fire to a few non-sacred cows. Many readers today don't even know what a columnist should do. A columnist is allowed an opinion. With that comes responsibility: To not shout "fire" in a crowded theater but also to tell the people the damned truth. The columnist holds the powerful accountable, challenges the conventional wisdom, starts conversations...raises hell. Nor must he or she do the "one side says...and the other side counters" nonsense that passes for news today, a destructive force that is the opposite of journalism: the best available version of the truth. Obviously this style of writing isn't for everyone, which is why so many papers have toned down their voices (leaving a gaping need now filled by the Web and adding to the newspaper industry's self-inflicted wounds). And Rogue's constituents read widely, so I am merely one of their destinations.
Rogue is my pro-bono work, largely focused on my hometown and state (although the blog now has readers in 50 states and several countries). After 25 years of column-writing, I don't hunger to see my name in print (and I have a regular column elsewhere and novels if I do). Maintaining a serious blog, particularly one based on the essay form, is grinding work. I do want to offer commentary not found elsewhere, which includes applying skepticism and critical thinking that's essential to sound journalism. This is particularly true for Phoenix, with its culture of boosterism, lies and very limited media offerings, where the loud voices are always from the right and essential historical, political and social context is usually lacking. The blog has also allowed me to be more forthright than I could be during my years as a columnist for the Arizona Republic. Did I have to pull my punches to save my job then? Of course. I was able to tell enough of the truth to do some good, I hope, and seal my doom, most definitely.
During my Republic days, the "he never says anything positive" drumbeat was constant. This despite my strong support for virtually every enterprise for bettering the place (I was often the only and sometimes the first editorial voice to do so). This despite my celebration of the achievements and leadership shown by those such as Lattie Coor, Dick Mallery, Bill Post, Kimber Lanning, Janet Napolitano, Michael Crow, Phil Gordon, Skip Rimsza, Ira Fulton, Alan Brunacini, Jose Cardenas, the late Paul Fannin and John Rhodes, Jeff Trent, Sheryl Sculley, etc. I wrote endless columns and Viewpoints covers about "solutions," from meds-and-eds to infrastructure to water. No matter. Even the local history I provided in my op-ed pieces — something so lacking in the newspaper — was oddly threatening. So you'll forgive me if I get a little tired of the "you offer no solutions" mantra.
Arizona has done itself no favors lately, with every news story exposing new depths of kookiness, hypocrisy, narrow-mindedness and cruelty. People from around the world have come to Rogue to learn about the state that passed the Jim Crow anti-immigration law. My long recent visit back home, which included long conversations with literally scores of 'Zonies, including high-powered folks, was also illuminating. So, yes, the commentary lately has been focused on this news and this reality. Maybe next week I'll do an entirely new (old) list of solutions. But are they practical? Not as long as the Kooks hold power and the economy is based on a Ponzi scheme.
To put it another way: The column is my take. I don't have all the answers. But I won't pull my punches. When something comes off as "too negative," it is not what I hope happens. I hope we can pull ourselves back from assorted abysses. I hope I'm wrong and white swans will appear. But my take is reality-based as I see it. You get your take in the comments section. As long as you don't make personal attacks on other commenters or try to sell stuff, it's as open a space as you'll find on the Web. Comments that actually add substance to the discussion get the most eyeballs.
I have no control over what readers take away from each column. It may be "I'm glad somebody told the truth!" Or, "You're crazy, Talton!" I'd rather you fight than despair. I'm not your guy if by "constructive/practical solutions," you mean a scheme to sustain an unsustainable and destructive status quo. Embedded in even the toughest columns are answers and solutions, and the blog has many solution-based posts. But Phoenix is saturated with feel-good boosters and the predictable "new idea" (that will go nowhere) floated by well-meaning folks, even as city and state drift in a sea calamity. In all this is the haze of hidden agendas and self-delusion that keeps Arizona in the dark. My job, which I don't promise to do for years to come, is to provide light. As for "hating" Arizona. Hardly. The energy that animates this column comes from the opposite end of the corner.
A final note: The blog also has features beyond the columns. Arizona's Continuing Crisis is a round-up of news and analysis about the Grand Canyon State you won't find on TV or at the chamber of commerce. The Best of the Front Page is an archive of some of the best journalism being done on national and world issues. You'll find best-practice and provocative analysis on urban issues and sustainability on The City Desk link. Enjoy.
Note to spammers: Rogue welcomes all viewpoints. However, if you are selling something and put your sales URL in your comment, you will be deleted and blocked. This is a non-profit blog, for me and for you.