Page 19


10, 1.1 taking. Huge, lavish parties with lots of booze and the best food possible were the order of the day. All this at a time when Houston was going through its worst recession in recent memory. Soon it became evident to them that they would not be raking in millions of dollars from their investment, and soon it ceased being fun. In 1987 they looked around for someone to take it off their hands and, sure enough, there was Billy Dean, ready and eager to do so. Taking the Post’s pension fund profits, the Canadians retreated north of the border to lick their wounded egos. Life in Billydeandom was a nightmare from the beginning. To run the paper, he brought in David Bergen, a man with the biggest journalistic ego in the country and the least to show for it. Bergen apparently believed that by screaming and shouting he could convert the staff from skeptics to adoring supporters. His tenure turned out to be a disaster all around and Bergen was exiled to California in 1991, but he was succeeded by one of his proteges, Charles Cooper. It was Cooper who had the dubious distinction of presiding over the public relations disaster that resulted from my firingfor refusing to keep quiet about his not letting me come out as a gay man in my columnafter Billy Dean had assured me I need not fear for my job. Under Billy Dean, the staff was gradually reduced to the point that at times college interns were assigned major breaking stories because there were no regular staff members around to do them. With raises handed out sparingly and selectively, and with constant rumors of the paper’s demise, staff morale hit all-time lows and kept declining. Thousands upon thousands of dollars that could have gone to staff salaries were foolishly wasted sponsoring such things as chili cookoffs and other charity events, activities that produce some goodwill but do little to increase circulation or advertising. The Post also stubbornly refused to promote its best assets: its writers, particularly its columnists, and in fact, often behaved as if it were embarrassed by us. The only columnist it would regularly tout was sports writer Mickey Herskowitz, whose long tenure there had made him an institution and therefore safe to promote. \(Ironically, it Herskowitz who sent this computer message systemwide, “Dean, I hope your It’s not that the Post’s columnists were great. We weren’t. But we were good. We took stands and we often challenged readers to thinkand we certainly were a lot better than the Chronicle’s. Except for Lori Rodriguez, the Chron’s hard-hitting minority affairs columnist, Chronicle columnists have written piece after tedious piece without ever saying one darn thing. Editorial page editor Lynn Ashby was constantly berating columnist Bob Newberry, an African American, and me for being too liberal and several times even threatened to fire me if I kept losing the Post more subscriptions. “Got another cancellation today from a subscriber because of your column,” he wrote a couple of months ago. “I don’t know how much longer I can keep you around. Nothing personal, just a business decision.” EVEN ON THE DAy before the paper’s closing, during ‘our regular editorial board meeting, after I’d sug gested we should be prepared to write our “farewell” editorial, Ashby blamed our controversial columns for the paper’s problemswhile insisting that we needed to give our readers something they couldn’t get in the Chronicle. Go figure. The Post was not solely responsible for its death, of course. As I told one TV interviewer the night of its closing, the paper was killed by three things, “Greed, greed and damn greed.” Much of that greed originated across town, at the Chronicle. Its lead over the Post was so vast that there was never any danger that we would overtake it. If it had wanted to, it could have let us continue making modest profits and carving out our niche among Houston’s readers. But this is America, home of rapacious capitalism, where most of the profits is not good enough, it has to be all of the profits. To that end, the Chronicle, both before and after it was bought by Hearst, ran an extensive and deliberate dirty campaign to undermine the Post’s standing with its readers and advertisers. Last year it used its power to take from the Post its only remaining Sunday coupon supplement, leaving the Post without any coupons. In spite of all this, the Post continued to survive and at times produce outstanding journalism. It survived primarily because the Chronicle was putting out such a lousy product. Had it continued to be a contest based strictly on good journalism, the Chronicle eventually might have won this newspaper battle anyway, but it wouldn’t have been any time soon. The official reason given for the closing of The Post was the high cost of newsprint. While it is true that newsprint prices have skyrocketed in recent months, that was not the only factor. But to blame high newsprint prices for the death of the newspaper is like blaming high rent prices for the suicide of a homeless person. The Post had been dying for a long, long time. Did the Post deserve to die? Probably. In the end, our strengths just weren’t enough to offset our weaknesses. Our loyal readers will miss us, for a while, but then life will go on. It has to. For five days after the paper’s closing, I stubbornly refused to pick up the Chronicles that had been thrown on my lawn. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. On the sixth day, I relented. Guess what? I survived. So will most of the 1,900 people who lost their jobs along with me. This is Texas today. A state full of Sunbelt boosters, strident anti-unionists, oil and gas companies, nuclear weapons and power plants, political hucksters, underpaid workers and toxic wastes, to mention a few. BUT DO NOT DESPAIR! pr,,,,, bill TEXAS 1411sere r TO SUBSCRIBE: Name Address City State Zip $32 enclosed for a one-year subscription. Bill me for $32. 307 West 7th St., Austin,TX 78701 .10 Inn rt Kitclicilcitc ,, \(-Ob .. I ICilIC\(1 1 ‘ \\ id\(‘ ///c \(mil HI licki, i , \(11/ .111111111,,, 1\\lond IIIP \\ \\ zijk i Nc pwI lc. 1094 I ; f r ‘,/ t \(pH ‘ /./ t r\( rpc\( ti j \( 7/\(// 7/ j A: , Imim ph r . rc i R \\ILti .0, Pets \\Velem -he Pi tt , 1423 11th Street sre , ilitS” Port Aransas, TX 78373 ‘$ .22,1 1 .scr -v:ii .,, ‘. ,f for -%,d vs 1………… w a r. %%4 7.5ea Horse THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13