The thing about being a man of a certain age who has always been pretty good at keeping up with the times is that a major function of my Twitter feed and Facebook page is finding out who has retired and who has died.
Last week, via a direct message on Facebook, I was told that an old friend and patron of mine had died. His name was Harris Rayl. He was 66. Three years older than I am.
That’s happening a lot lately.
Harris was the third generation of a family that owned a chain — they preferred the term “group” — of community newspapers in Kansas and Iowa. I worked with Harris at one of those newspapers, and later he hired me to work for him as the editor of another newspaper where he had become publisher.
We were both pretty young for those spots. He was patient with me as I learned the job and backed me completely when I decided to publish articles about this new (it was 1993) thing called same-sex marriage, or about other unusual people and ideas.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything. I thought he wasn’t very good at managing creative people. He thought I wasn’t very good at managing anybody. We were both right. And I am still really steamed at him and everyone he is related to for, long after I was out of the picture, selling the family business to an out-of-state flock of vultures that gutted the newsrooms and left those communities without a vital public service.
Anyway, long ago, he gave up the rough-and-tumble of daily journalism for a more far-sighted, philanthropic role with a scientific research foundation. Where he found himself hiring me again, after his successor as publisher fired me.
Harris was well-read and well-traveled, once even pulling a hitch as a bartender in England just for the experience, but perhaps too contemplative and introverted to really be comfortable in the newspaper game. Even if he owned all the pieces.
He was initially reluctant to invest in an online presence for the newspaper, fearing that the World Wide Web, as it was then known, was just a passing fad, the latest CB radio. Sometimes I wish he’d been right about that one.
And it always bothered him that newspapers seemed to waste so much valuable newsprint on such goofy stuff as sports, comics and, most horrible of all, horoscopes, pseudo-scientific bunk. Harris was a serious type.
But he also saw the bigger picture.
“I don’t just edit this newspaper for myself,” Harris told me more than once. “I figure if I like everything in my newspaper, that means some other people will like nothing in my newspaper.”
I think of that when I hear, as I am a lot this week, from people who think this newspaper spends too much of its increasingly expensive newsprint, and online bandwidth, covering the doings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
How much is too much is a judgment call over which reasonable people can disagree. But clearly the doings of a world-wide religious organization that holds much social, if not officially political, power around here are newsworthy by definition.
Or would you rather not know what pull the church has exerted over legislative decisions from same-sex marriage to medical marijuana to booze and gambling?
Is it of no consequence to non-members that the pronouncements of some mean old men have a huge impact on relations between the races, between the sexes, or within the often anguished souls of gay or transgender people?
Actually, looking back over the last few years particularly, I’d say that some people who really wish The Tribune would spill a lot less ink over LDS Church doings are people who run the LDS Church.
Tribune reporting and commentary on matters such as how the church treats members who are LGBTQ, or women who have been assaulted and abused at church institutions such as Brigham Young University, or its influence over legislative politics, is hardly a promotion of that faith or its power structure. And no newspaper that was in the tank for the church would allow its actions to be described as “a dark day,” as a person we quoted did just this week.
Saying The Salt Lake Tribune shouldn’t cover the church is like saying that The Detroit Free Press wastes its time covering General Motors, or that The Los Angeles Times should ignore Hollywood, just because a substantial portion of their readers don’t care. Even if they should.
If you really aren’t into it, you can be like my friend Harris, skip the horoscope, and turn the page.
George Pyle, editorial page editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, owes a lot to several newspaper editors. Some of them are still alive. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @debatestate.