“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
~ Orson Welles
This week, the managing editor of the Coastline family of papers, John Canalis, wrote to inform me that my column was being shelved – “for the time being” – in order that the paper could expand into new communities. All revenue for the opinion pieces is to be redirected to reporters of those papers.
I’ve thought long and hard about what this means. After eleven years of connection to and with the Laguna Beach community, my first sense is one of loss.
“Chasing the Muse,” was originally a column about how to be creative. It grew under the watchful ‘tongues’ of Catharine Cooper and Cherril Doty into a forum of community issues. We expanded our conversation to include the environment, local (and not so local) politics, ocean protection, travel bits, arts issues and Laguna’s social scene. We’ve covered stories of family and our friends – with a Laguna Beach slant.
Since 2000, we’ve survived the ownership and name changes to our local paper, distribution issues, as well as multiple editors. But we couldn’t survive the LA Times position that we are not as valuable as their reporters.
My first touch with the news scene was in 1962 at Thurston Intermediate School, which was then located across from the LBHS. Ed McFarland was the Journalism instructor, and he turned a motely crew of students into cub reporters, layout artists and distributors for the Thurston Tide & Times. High School led to the Brush and Palate, and after a stint in college (with no paper affiliation) I landed my first paying newspaper job – hand laying cold type for advertisements for the Glendale News Press.
I’ve celebrated some peak personal moments as a writer for the Coastline.
During the ramp-up to the Iran invasion, a column that appeared on these pages, “Question My Americanism,” was appropriated by numerous on-line publications. Common Dreams.org was the first to re-publish the piece, (www.commondreams.org/views03/0425-05.htm), followed by groups and sites as disparate as Veterans Against the War and Truth Out.
For a while, my writing seemed to go viral. A young student in Norway contacted me, and shared that he and his class had read my piece on the Internet. They wanted permission to use the column as a teaching tool about Democracy.
I was stunned that words from a small coastal newspaper could travel so far and carry such impact. I was humbled by their request.
In 2005, The California Newspaper Publishers awarded me First Place Columnist in weekly papers with a circulation of 10,001-25,000. The source of the award was the three-part series that covered the Laguna Landslide of June that year, and the loss of my parent’s home. It was thrilling to be acknowledged by my peers.
My involvement in the local community has also found expression in this paper. I’ve shared insider stories as Chair of the City Open Space Committee, a Trustee at Laguna College of Art and Design, and as an exhibitor at the Festival of Arts.
I’ve dragged you with me up and down the Baja coast. “Together” we’ve explored offbeat places filled with odd-looking cactus, straggly range cattle, drifting kayaks and stunning sunrises. Loreto became a second home, and I’ve told antics of the vagaries of living in a foreign country. I’ve learned to fish with you, surf with you, worked on perfecting down-dog with you.
Together we’ve done Mayan ruins, hiked Death Valley canyons, sailed the Baha Haha, and run the rapids of the Grand Canyon. We’ve even learned to SUP. We’ve supported (and sponsored) fundraisers for local causes. We’ve talked local politics, marine conservation, been pissed off about City Council decisions, and frustrated by the lack of local parking.
It’s been a long run. Writers are being dumped in all quadrants while the publishing industry desperately struggles to learn new ways of operating in a virtual world. The Coastline has never been a subscription-based paper – and even those with subscriber bases are cutting every possible corner.
I’m not sure dumping the opinion writers is a particularly brilliant idea. I can’t imagine the LA Times (of past) without Jack Smith. Or the San Francisco Chronicle without Herb Caen. Or the New York Times without Maureen Dowd, Nicholas D. Kristof, Paul Krugman, or Thomas L. Friedman. Not that I match myself to them in anyway, but the point is that it’s not what is reported – but that which is interpreted – that often matters most.
Opinion piece and columnists open our minds to alternate ways of viewing the world around us. They are the first pieces that I read in a newspaper – not the last.
I sincerely hope that the words of John Canalis – “for the time being” – turn out to be true, and not just a kind salvo. For newspapers – even local community venues, are empty vehicles without the voice of interpretation.
It’s been great. It’s been challenging. And it’s been fun. I miss you already – and I can only hope that I don’t’ miss you for too long.
Catharine Cooper has been writing for the Coastline since 2000. She can be reached at