I used to stand on the upper floors of the parking garage at McCarran when I flew in or out of town, gaze over the city and think: This is my town. I’m a part of it. I can make things happen. Or at least stir the pot.
I knew casino owners, council members, commissioners, lawmakers, government executives of every stripe.
I conducted newspaper editorial boards with billionaires, governors, congressmen, senators, heads of federal agencies, a former U.S. Supreme Court justice and more than a few gadflies and crackpots. I had one billionaire call me stupid to my face in front of my boss. After another meeting, he held onto my arm as I escorted him down a hallway he could not see to where his driver waited.
I was one those bastards on Bonanza, as one former mayor called us.
On this day four years ago, I walked unceremoniously and unlamented out of the offices of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and have never returned. That was after nearly 23 years as managing editor and editor — in charge of the news and opinion pages, along with a multimillion-dollar budget and nearly 150 reporters, editors, artists, photographers and more. I was also a column writer with the self-appointed role of standing up for free speech and press, access to public records and open meetings, as well as being the ombudsman heralding the paper’s successes and explaining why we did things the way we did when controversy arose.
When I interviewed for the job, I was asked about my politics. Though I had written columns over the years, I was not steeped in politics. I said I was a liberal, but a fiscal conservative. It took me a couple of years to discover the label for my politics all along was libertarian.
Over the years I had come up with policies for newsroom staff, such as no comps. A reviewer could accept a ticket for a show being reviewed but no other. I spelled out when anonymous sources could be used and why. I insisted a supervisor approve and must know the source’s name and reason for anonymity.
For my last few months I had the title — and it was title only — of senior opinion editor. I wrote columns, but with a different tack, as well as editorials and opinion pieces on topics of the day at the bidding of the new publisher.
The beginning of the end came about a week after Harry Reid was re-elected, I was called into a front office to learn that the newspaper’s longtime publisher and CEO of the parent media company had been replaced with a new publisher and a separate person as CEO and that I had the choice of leaving with a modest severance package or stay on with a new job. It took me awhile to realize I had made a mistake by staying, for more reasons than I care to explain.
I asked repeatedly why I was being ousted, what I had done to deserve this treatment after decades of loyal service and incredibly long hours. I got no answer, just some mumbling about change. Not change for the better, just change. I later learned that the room I was in was like the end of the chute at the slaughterhouse. A half a dozen other longtime executives in departments across the building were being shown the door that very day. So my suspicions about the re-election of Reid — who the paper had editorially strongly opposed with the support and encouragement of the owners — being the cause of the coup were placed into question, though not completely dismissed.
Nevada is an at-will state. Unless you have a contract, you can be terminated for cause, no cause or whim.
It is no consolation that both the new publisher and new CEO have both since been terminated. And it is with considerable chagrin that I contemplate the several dozen top editors and reporters who were let go in what was doubtless a bid to improve the bottom line and facilitate the recent sale of the entire newspaper chain to another soulless chain.
There is not a day goes by that I don’t think about those people whose lives were upended without the courtesy of an explanation. A few familiar bylines remain, but not many. Some have landed on their feet, others on hard times. To the bosses they were just nameless, faceless pieces on the game board. I miss them and the hustle of daily journalism and being an integral part of the community.
When I now look out from that parking garage, it is just a city of meandering people trying to do their jobs and live their lives with dignity, never knowing when or why the wrecking ball will fall.