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Opinion

What the Devil won't tell you

A Turkey Day shout-out to the readers I'm so thankful for

Setting the table about how your support is a valuable part of Tucson Sentinel's rebuilding of local news

It's Thanksgiving week and it is always the second slowest news week on the calendar. 

The slowest being the week between Christmas and the new year.

So I figured this would be a good chance to talk about what I’m most thankful for … but it’s 2021. The new decade isn’t exactly loaded with good news.

I mean, of course, there are family and friends whom I’ve barely gotten to see recently. But there’s also honest-to-God disaster about. It’s behind us, next to us and in front of us.

However, there is one thing that I have that I would be crazy not to be thankful for: You’s people.

I wouldn't still be doing this after seven years if people out in the community weren’t reading — and when I call sources, they call back because of yo folks.

My experience of this column is banging on a keyboard and submitting something into our system. Dylan Smith snarks through an edit. It gets posted and sent into cyberspace.

Only later do I realize there’s the whole “people-read-me” part. It's a total rush.

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It’s like NASA firing a probe at the sky. At some point in the future, messages come back and “holy smokes it worked!”

I was pleasantly surprised to hear so many members of our Community Advisory Council give me warm salutations, and then one of them tore me up as I meandered into whitesplaining. It's fine. I deserved it. Thanks for reading and participating.

Column-writing is a marathon. You like what I wrote today, huh? Well, I may piss you off tomorrow. My goal is simply to give you an informed perspective.

I mean seriously people, what else am I supposed to with all this local government RAM. It’s not like I can drop into dinner conversation the difference between general plan and zoning designations and “the dangers of bonding for M and O.” Plus, I have a level of self-inflicted political geekery that insures I will die alone.

So I figured I could fill you in on sort of the origin story of the column and key you in on some of its peculiarities – myself chief among them.

So this is my column’s manger scene, as I mix holiday metaphors.

Hark, the herald…

I had the absolute joy of being laid off from the Tucson Citizen just as the whole journalism industry came crashing down on top of me.

I bounced around for a while and let me tell you: Sometimes the bumps were harder than others.

Nursing the abrasions, I was starting to think that journalism had no more use for a 40-something-white guy whose experience predated Twitter. As we all know, nothing that happened before tweetstorms matters much anymore.

But by about mid-2014, I started to notice that a lot of my social media time was getting swallowed up by chattering about stories I had covered during my 15 years as a journalist covering issues Tucson was still talking about.

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That began the six-month process of talking myself into writing again. It’s just that we live in a world where everyone thinks they are informed enough to rant for cash. What makes me different? 

Simply put, I have experience in the areas I opine about.

Sitting through two weeks of three-hour budget meetings going over each and every line item with the Flagstaff City Council isn’t something the average podcaster does. Nor do they endure thousands of hours of board meetings, commission meetings and panel discussions. They haven’t interviewed a trazillion experts on prickly subjects and then condensed them down to 10-inch news stories.

My inner Foghorn Leghorn spilt forth “I say son, you’re doing it all wronnng boyyyy … a single-family detached house will generate – I say generate – more than 11 vehicle trips per day…”

My background was pretty expansive. I had officially worked at various news desks as the county reporter, the city reporter, the higher education reporter, the growth and development reporter, the faith and values reporter and finally, the political writer.

Some people have one beat their entire career. I tended to get bored.

I mean, hell, Blake (me talking myself into it, now). You were damned near was a metro columnist at the Citizen after you applied for the position on a lark. The brass said you almost knocked out one of the two shoe-ins and that I was a the front of the line for the next opening. You even have three election cycles of experience inside political campaigns.

This is true. Whatever is lost in objectivity, is gained back in newfound wisdom.

This just made me more experienced.

So let’s do a blog, figured … (OK, go back and read the part where I came up prior to even MySpace). I just was looking at hosting it on a site lost 1,000 miles behind oblivion.

On the other hand: Maybe Dylan Smith could help me somehow? He was largely a one-man-band and yet somehow making a splash in local journalism. I got in touch. We met for coffee. I had a lot of ideas I bounced off Dylan – all of them bad. He just said “No, write into our system and use AP style. You’ll be a columnist subject to my rules and edits.”

OK. That works.

T-dah. That's a truncated version of the story.

The length

Ladies and gentlemen, I worked for Gannett Inc., the inventors of the containable eight-inch news story. I can write them in my sleep. Hell, I taught them at the University of Arizona.

Impact lede.
Nutgraf.
Background graf.
Set up the first quote and add context.
Quote.
Set up the next quote and add more context.
Quote.
Maybe a third set-up and quote.
Happy Hour and crack open a Budweiser.

Print media imposes arbitrary limits on the depth of discussions.

I don’t have that problem now. It’s an advantage. It’s an advantage over print and over video. Do you wanna say: “Too Long. Did Not Read?” All I can say to the TLDR crowd is stop reading when you want and go play Call of Duty. I don’t have a gun to your head.

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It’s not going to be “on the test.”

I’m giving you the option to read more. Take it. Don’t take it.

The name

Way back when, I had this idea that I could be a good songwriter and maybe, perhaps, a singer working behind a guitar. Then I realized that whatever chops I had as a lyricist were completely overshadowed by what a horror show I was musically.

One of the little lyrical ditties I wrote was called: “What the Devil Won’t Tell You,” and the next line was “you probably already know.” When I was thinking about the blog, that name came into my head. The first column I sent to Dylan still had the name on it.

He included it. The column had a name.

That’s the story. No focus groups. No market research. No nothing. I just forgot to hit delete and Dylan liked it and used it.

Sources and access

I go back and forth on this.

I really think journalists naturally pull punches when they need to keep access to sources. Also, it’s like naming the lobster.

People think the best journalists are super aggressive, but I always tried to empathize with my sources to see where they were coming from and as a result, I tended to like them. It’s hard to smack them around when they need it if we just compared stories about our kids.

My background informs me pretty well about the issues within the issues.

The danger is in getting lost. I know how to get from Campbell to Swan on East Broadway, right? But then orange cones direct traffic through neighborhood streets and now I’m behind El Con Mall. What the hell do I do now?

Some times I need to ask for directions because I know I’ve taken a tangent into unfamiliar territory.

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So I’m starting to add more sources to my copy.

Also, there was a time when I flat-out could not afford a cell phone, which leads to different challenges.

You again and the help you give

But that’s where you came along, people. You read and voluntarily support us. I have a phone with (and this is clutch) a permanent number where I can be reached. Boy does that make the job easier.

I bring that up because that is how you help us keep moving copy. The concept of money and purchases need no explanation. That we give the product away without a pay wall leaves obvious needs.

I’ve worked with some great journalists over the years. My old podmate Susan Carroll wound up leading the investigative team at the Houston Chronicle. The guy who hired me in Flagstaff is now the projects editor for the whole of the Associated Press Asia. I've shared a newsroom with other great names in local journalism like Carla McClain, Stephanie Innes, Tim Steller, Gabby Rico, C.T. Revere, Annie Denogean … boy does the list go on …

This team at the Sentinel is damned good. I know them when I see them. It’s all I can do to keep up.

Dylan Smith is becoming a major player nationally – not just in digital nonprofit journalism but in the whole profession itself. Paul Ingram? Rare is the reporter who is better than Paul at sourcing and knowledge of what he covers. He knows everybody, and everybody knows to bring great news tips to him. Bennito Kelty is a wet-behind-the-ears cub but he’s knocking out damned good copy and finding stories nobody else is looking for. He does it with a Gen Z “yeah, I guess …” but Maria Coxon-Smith is a real copy editor and she can edit in voice. Editors can’t do that. It’s not possible. She does. Speaking of editors, Gene Moreland is an absolute machine posting 10 wire stories a day and keeping everything else humming. You don’t see his byline much but his wisdom and insight go a long way in making everything better.

These aren't retreads or novices providing this service. They are pack-a-wallop journalists at this start-up.

You folks who read me, are building this community news site because you know just because we give this away for free, it doesn’t make us cheap. 

And we could absolutely use more help. 

Right now the Sentinel has a dollar-for-dollar matching grant opportunity with NewsMatch. So even a dollar donation goes twice as far right now in covering my phone bill, putting shoes on Paul's kid's feet, and hiring more reporters in the Sentinel newsroom.

We need more of us, is the thing. This town could definitely use more women covering the news. More people of color are vital to our success. More eager young savvy reporters are important for our future. We've got some tremendous opportunities to grow our newsroom over the next year. The more journalists we've got, the more of our community TucsonSentinel.com can listen to, dig into, report on and the more you and your neighbors can read about.

You can support us by becoming a member of our Watchdog Club, right here and now:

Subscribe and stretch your donation over time:

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This is your site as much as ours. Hometown local journalism is on the rebound across the country, despite the predations of the hedge funds that control chain newspapers. The Sentinel's part of a movement of truly independent local news organizations. It’s cool to be part of something that’s growing and part of the solution.

About half of that is us. About half of that is you. I’ll keep on plugging. We'll keep typing. I know you will too, helping us along the way. 

This is our news site, and you're part of it. Working together, we can  continue to make something special.

It's just cool knowing I write for you and not shareholders on the north shore of the Black Sea.

Blake Morlock is an award-winning columnist who worked in daily journalism for nearly 20 years, and as a communications director for the Pima County Democratic Party. Now he’s telling you things that the Devil won’t.


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