THIS ISSUE OF the Tucson Weekly marks the end of my involvement with the newspaper. The dogs bark, the caravan moves on, the growth machine must be fed. As for me, I'm outta here.
It is, nevertheless, a transition I find both exhilarating and melancholy. For reasons unknown to me, I've been one of those blessed individuals permitted to pursue a lifelong dream and find some measure of success. As far back as I can remember, all I wanted to do was publish a newspaper. From the time I was literate, I made little newspapers, magazines and books and relished all things related to the written -- and printed -- word. My parents instilled in me a love of reading and writing that informed everything I pursued from childhood on into adulthood. The need to publish, to disseminate ideas must, I think, be some kind of genetic imperative among those of us who do this work.
An otherwise lackluster high school experience was redeemed by the three years I spent on the school newspaper. My first two years in college, I spent every afternoon working as an editor at the long-defunct Mountain Newsreal, a genuine "underground newspaper" that carried on the tradition of the American counterculture of the early '70s.
Reagan's election in 1980 spurred the next phase in my publishing journey when, as part of a student activist group's inauguration-day rally on the UA mall, a few of us put together a publication called Network -- a gleefully naïve attempt to unite the progressive forces in the community against the coming conservative juggernaut. Dark days indeed.
That impetus led to a short-lived experiment that involved co-opting the Food Conspiracy's newsletter as a leftist community newspaper, which transmogrified into the Coyote monthly, published by a non-profit corporation and managed by a worker collective. We labeled it a "bioregional journal" with a mission to explain, celebrate and protect the culturally and biologically Sonoran treasures unique to this extraordinary place. Coyote was much like KXCI, the city's community radio station. Our continual efforts to keep it alive included subscription drives, advertising sales, raffles and assorted fundraisers, with most of us living an austere and communal lifestyle in support of the cause. After a year and a half we called it quits (in September 1983), having run out of money, energy and faith.
Tucson Weekly co-founder Mark Goehring and I had graduated from the UA a year earlier. We hastily wrote a business plan and attempted to raise $250,000 to create a weekly version of Coyote, and to our amazement, no one would give us a dime. It appeared the Tucson publishing adventures had come to an end.
A few weeks later, staring into the fire late on a cold, winter night in my tiny barrio apartment two blocks from the present Weekly offices, I scribbled some numbers on a page and convinced myself we could start a weekly newspaper on nothing more than sheer will and a few thousand dollars. My friend would hear nothing of it, but at a Thanksgiving gathering on Mount Lemmon, my optimistic persistence paid off and he agreed to give it a go. We rented a two-room office on Convent Street, borrowed a few thousand dollars from friends, and so it began. The first issue appeared February 22, 1984.
In the intervening 16 years, I've experienced: an arduous and enlightening series of lessons in running a small business; a series of fortuitous encounters with extraordinary and uncommonly generous people; wrenching personal dramas intimately intertwined with the life of the paper (including losing my best friend and partner in 1989 in a bitter business dispute, and a painful divorce a year later); an amazing amount of sheer dumb luck; the satisfaction of seeing the paper become a respected journalistic force in the community; the opportunity to work with dedicated, talented and caring employees; the pride in seeing creative individuals move on to greater career recognition; the wanton destruction of vast tracts of irreplaceable Sonoran desert at the hands of rapacious developers who will, I guarantee you, burn in hell; the joys of advocacy, such as our fight to save the Temple of Music and Art from sure destruction; the schizophrenia of being a (not very good) "businessman" while decrying the evils of growth; the constant terror of financial collapse and the eternal pursuit of a positive cash flow; the relentless cycle of deadlines and more deadlines, always those damned deadlines; the weekly ritual of opening up a fresh-off-the-press newspaper and perusing it as if for the first time, and then critiquing it for all the ways we fell short of our ideal. And so on.
(And I must add, parenthetically, because I don't know where else to put it, that Jeff Smith is still one of the greatest writers I will ever know.)
So now I walk away from all that, leaving the paper in the hands of my capable staff but under new ownership. I take it on faith that the new owners bought the paper because, as Bob Wick says, they love it. I've heard the usual clueless rumblings from the street that Tucson Weekly is about to lose its soul, become an emasculated ad rag, or worse. Frankly, you cynics, I rather doubt it, as long as Tom Lee, the new publisher, recognizes that the talented individuals who work here do so for their love of the paper and the attendant craft that goes into making it happen. They don't have to be here; they're here by choice. They're here for the Tucson Weekly, first and foremost, and all that it represents as both a medium and a place to do good work. Respect that and honor that and things will be just fine. Good luck to you all.
For myself, I'm simply grateful. Grateful to have had the opportunity and grateful to be able to take some time off to reinvent myself, absent the yoke of the Tucson Weekly. This is the only job I've ever had -- apart from several stints as a professional dishwasher -- and I figure at age 40 I might have another project or two in me. There are simply too many people to thank, and to single anyone out would risk offense to those I neglect to mention. You know who you are, you know what you did -- and you have my eternal gratitude. We made a newspaper despite the odds, we built an institution that makes Tucson a better place to live, we changed some electoral outcomes, we shamed the shameful, we were righteous and frequently right, we published some good stuff, we stayed up late, we had a damn good time. Long live the First Amendment. Thanks for everything.
-- Douglas Biggers