John Marrs’ “Swan Song”

I worked once for an editor whose weekly column of personal commentary became notorious for rhapsodies about his roses. He lacked the touch of deft humor or insightful metaphor, and the resulting prose bored. An earlier editor coached me to never be boring.

I fear that I am on the edge of offending in that manner (if, indeed, I have not already done so), and have decided to retire my column-writing pen. I have been publishing personal commentary in newspapers since high school when I wrote sports columns for the Ventura Senior High School Cougar.

At 75, I now want to husband my energies for other writing projects, especially poetry and a memoir.

Other than that desire, this decision has been hastened by my recent stroke and an increasing lack of involvement in the political life of the community. In short, I am losing my license to presume that I might understand what is going on.

I also suffer from Trump fatigue. The man we now call president is so preposterous and the Republican Party that pretends to think he is a worthwhile leader is so corrupt that I finally have forsaken the daily pursuit of truth and wisdom via the mass media.

The New York Times and the Associated Press are as reliable as ever (understanding that no single mass medium is utterly reliable), but television news and commentary are so infatuated with ratings and the idea that Trump attracts viewers that TV has become a circus in which stories tilt in favor of the bias of the perceived audience demographics.

Finally, the internet serves to offer us more variety and depth of information than humanity has ever before enjoyed – at the cost of reliability. Here I refer to the ability to depend on a source for its diligence or objective analysis of conflicting “truths.” How many of us can keep track of Politico, The Hill, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, Vox, the daily such-and-such, and whatever, and feel confident in the source?

The Koch brothers and their libertarian billionaire friends have poisoned the field with think tanks created to think only one way and with subsidies for university programs designed to doubt established philosophy and science and the practice of law, and with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that promotes and even writes legislation for state legislators.

Standing up to such political hubris are many small publications, such as this one. The Port O Call publishes because one man and his family believe in this community and believe that many things are either right or wrong. Dale Wilson, the publisher and editor, makes some mistakes, but they are mistakes of passion and a strong desire to promote positive change.

I cannot say the same for the Peninsula Daily News, where I worked as acting city editor for two terms during the summers of 2000 and 2001. The PDN disappoints me chiefly because its Canadian owners have decided to make the highest profit margin they can rather than invest in creating the best public-service newspaper they can. I worked as editor in chief for nine years of a daily newspaper with a staff the same size as the news staff of the PDN – but the PDN claims twice as much paid circulation and should be able to afford a staff with more copy editors to prevent mistakes both silly and serious, and enough reporters to cover topics they

now cover slightly if at all. Both news publications are understaffed, but in the case of the PDN that is a management decision rather than necessity.

The Port O Call remains an important contributor to the local conversation. Without it, Port Angeles relies solely on the Daily News and local radio, and both of those sources are too close to the usual suspects and the habitual way of doing things to expect much probing, incisive coverage. Further, the PDN forfeits its potential leadership role by offering no opinions of its own on the Opinion Page. Management fears that opining will make some readers unhappy. Port O Call, on the other hand, has frequently highlighted controversial issues that the others left alone.

I have contributed commentary (and some reporting) to Port O Call gratis for more than two years. During that time, Dale Wilson has never altered my writing or told me what to write. That gives a commentator an independence that can otherwise be obtained only by self-publication or blogging.

I will miss the ride, especially the many good words I have received from readers. But I must dismount before my horse grows lame.

John Merton Marrs of Port Angeles is a media historian, poet, short story writer and award-winning editor who has published essays and columns in the Chicago Tribune, Publisher’s Auxiliary, the Journal of Sport and Social Issues, the Ventura County Star, the Peninsula Clarion of Kenai, Alaska, the San Luis Obispo Tribune, the Charleston Times-Courier of Illinois, and the erstwhile Camarillo Daily News, as well

4 Comments

  1. anonymous

    Thanks for all the great reads, John. Your insights will be missed.

    Reply
  2. Michael Gentry

    You will be missed. I’ve enjoyed your insights and style. Mahalo nui loa!

    Reply
  3. Dave

    John, I’ll miss your insight and wisdom (even though you are younger than I!). You have served well and faithfully…thank you!

    Reply
  4. Mike

    I enjoyed meeting you John, and you will be missed. As a Forester and restoration practitioner, I enjoyed the take on beavers… The now missing Dale Wilson will also be sorely missed. The good ole boys are already revving their engines for a free pass by the local media.

    Reply

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