Memo to self: Do not write a goodbye column.
In case you doubt the wisdom of this advice to yourself, go down to the basement and dig out the goodbye column you published in The Pitch in August 1998, when you were leaving Kansas City for a job as managing editor at Westword, Denver's legendary weekly. If you're brave enough to read it, you'll be struck by the melodramatic, aggressively neurotic ramblings of a much younger woman — one who was certain she was never coming back. But less than two years later, Westword's parent company bought The Pitch and sent you back east on Interstate 70. It's a move you've never regretted, but you've always felt silly about that goodbye column.
Resist the urge to respond to the Star columnist Barbara Shelly's comments about the unhappy end of Helen Thomas' career. The 89-year-old Thomas, who had covered the White House since the Kennedy years and who famously sat in her own front-row seat at press briefings, resigned in disgrace June 7 after saying that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to Poland, Germany, America and elsewhere. "It's a sorry exit for a legendary newswoman who broke both barriers and stories," Shelly wrote on a Star blog last week. "Fortunate are those who know when it's time to bow out. That goes for athletes, politicians and trailblazing journalists. Thomas' behavior had grown increasingly strange in recent years. Pity she didn't write a definitive farewell column at some point and retire on better terms."
What the hell is "a definitive farewell column," anyway? Do not feel pressure to write such a thing. After all, part of the reason you're handing over The Pitch to a new editor is because, after nearly 20 years as a journalist in this town, you've pretty much said everything about the city that you want to say — for now, anyway. Writing a goodbye column at this point would just sound self-indulgent.
Besides, it's old news. You announced that you were leaving on The Pitch's news blog on May 17. Rehashing it would just make you want to lecture print-only readers about how they need to start hitting pitch.com every day. You know that many people still think of The Pitch as a weekly paper, one that has grown skinny in a bad economy. You want them to understand that we are in the midst of an inevitable technological transition, that there might always be a print version, but that The Pitch has long been a daily media outlet, with new information going up all the time on our news, food and music blogs. You're constantly boring people at dinner parties by harping about how, if they're reading us only in print, they're missing 80 percent of what we do.
There wasn't much to that blog announcement anyway. It was short and basic. "In a few weeks," you wrote, "we'll start throwing parties and probably getting all nostalgic as The Pitch marks a significant anniversary: In July, the paper turns 30. Myself, I'm quite a bit beyond that. And I'm wise enough to know when it's time to hand the baton to someone new. I've been editor of The Pitch for a decade now; before taking this job in 2000, I spent most of the '90s writing and editing for earlier incarnations of The Pitch and its competitors. It's time for me to do something else — and it's time for me to see what someone else can do with The Pitch."
You explained that you would soon start a new job as director of communications at the University of Kansas Medical Center, which isn't that much of a stretch because you've devoted much of your own reporting over the last year to issues involving public policy and health care, and the new job will allow you to focus those efforts. A couple of dim bulbs proceeded to say you'd gone corporate, but there's no use trying to correct them; if they don't know the difference between corporate and academic, that's their problem.
A journalist inevitably wears the scars of past mistakes. But as much as you respected longtime Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman, do not try to atone for yours as she did in her annual end-of-year "media culpa" columns, which she once described as a "ritual cleansing of the keyboard." Regurgitating regrets might make you feel better but, in reality, would only recommit the journalistic crimes. Seriously. Don't do it.
And don't hurt yourself trying to figure out your favorite Pitch stories over the years. People have asked, and the answer is almost always "this week's."
Avoid trying to determine the weirdest thing that has happened in the 10 years you've officially been in charge of this beast. Do not wonder out loud whatever became of the long rap poem — several single-spaced pages, as you remember it — delivered by someone apparently angry at something written by a music editor who shall not be named. The poem arrived at the front door accompanied by 30 or 40 pounds of raw meat — a calf-high pile of ground beef, T-bones, strips, shoulders and roasts. Someone around here took a picture of it, but don't try to track it down. Don't even mention this incident, lest you give readers other ideas about creatively nonviolent responses when someone inevitably writes something that pisses them off.
Refrain from suggesting where people will be able to find you around town, listing all of your hangouts as a way to express your love for the city. That might only jinx them. Remember, it was only a couple of weeks ago that you had to swallow lumps of disappointment as you edited a cover story about the cancellation of this year's Kansas City, Kansas, Street Blues Festival, your favorite weekend of the year. OK, it might be safe to go ahead and say you haven't given up hope for some of Kansas City's most sacred places. That you dream the Quindaro Ruins in Kansas City, Kansas — the long-gone town where slaves swimming across the Missouri River stepped ashore on free land — might someday be a fully realized national park and historic landmark. That the whole community might one day understand and lift up the remains of 18th and Vine. That Union Station might someday live up to the promise of its rehab.
As painful as some of the city's stories are, you feel privileged to have been able to tell them for the past 20 years. As you said in that Plog announcement last month: Even when Kansas Citians are at their worst, they're still pretty entertaining — and when they're at their best, they make their city and their world a better place for everyone.
You've been honored to work with an extraordinarily gifted group of people, sharing your various only-at-The Pitch experiences. And the new editor, Joe Tone, who starts in a couple of weeks, already knows that you're eager to see what he'll do with the place.
You are deeply grateful to everyone who has ever read this paper, bought an ad to help support it, opened up to tell us their stories, sent us tips, delivered documents, written letters to the editor, or posted comments on the website. You have profound appreciation for everyone who has opened a restaurant, played music, created art, put on a show, held public office or done anything else you and your staff were inspired to write about.
But to come right out and say that? C'mon. People think you're a hard-edged, cynical journalist. Last thing you want is for anyone to think you're all sappy and sentimental.