Alan Sanborn: This Time, Look For The Union Label

persistence of mem banner1Until a month and a half ago, I feared that I would be writing more of an obituary to fill this space. I had been dreading the end of the Arcata Eye – knowing that I would soon have a much more difficult time piecing together what goes on in this odd little town.

Supposedly, in the 17 years since the Eye’s inception, we’ve become a digital world. Really, though, the blogosphere doesn’t offer the comfort and reassurance that comes from a community being “all on the same page.” We all share the knowledge that the Ridge Trail is now complete, that the Co-op and its unions are at odds at the moment, that there are umpteen possibilities along 101 south, and that we can all recognize bad people by their slightly greenish yellow complexions.

Previous rumors that HSU might buy the Eye were discomforting to say the least – with too huge a potential for conflict of interest. So I was thrilled with the news that the Arcata Eye and the McKinleyville Press are merging, with both editors still at work.

While the idea might not be an amazing stroke of genius, it is a beautifully simple and practical solution to the problem of today’s economic realities. The Mad River Union will be guided by two men who sincerely care about this community, who embody the ideals of journalism and who really know how to write. I’ll “look for the Union label” in October.

The brilliance of the Arcata Eye has been its ability to not only reflect the community, but to include the community. The Eye appeared to be as much a product of Arcata as a product of Kevin Hoover. That’s only because he saw how to make it happen. He caught the quirky, irreverent, yet optimistic and creative, nature of this town – and then configured a format loose enough to mirror that spirit.

By format, I don’t mean simply the wonderful long photo banners at the tops of each page, the layout and the typeface. In the Eye, content became format – the wordplay, the open forum, the welcoming of criticism, the bits of history, the photos of dogs and cats and notes stuck to power poles, the amazingly varied lengths of letters, articles and opinion pieces.

The content, from day one to day 6,205, has been a testament to small city democracy. Perhaps there is a newspaper somewhere that gives people more rope with which to hang themselves, but I doubt it. And one would be hard-pressed to find an editor more duty-bound to print (sometimes rather scathing) criticism of himself.

I think of the Eye as being where Arcata’s connection with Bret Harte meets Kevin’s connection with Frank Zappa. I sincerely believe that Kevin cares as much about Arcata as Bret Harte cared about Bret Harte. And those who consider Kevin a curmudgeon should feel lucky they never had to deal with Zappa (who was definitely frank). With Editor Hoover, we got a unique combination of crusading journalism and postmodern pastiche.

I realize that the Eye hasn’t been just Kevin Hoover – there was a lot of help and good will. Terrence McNally comes to mind first, and then maybe Jennifer Savage. And there were all of us less likely characters – who would have ever thought that taxi driver Randy Collenberg would be a writer, let alone a published author? Or woman-who-walks Bev Hale, or innkeeper Barbara Holzer, or workout queen Debi Farber Bush, or well educated dilettante Don Jones, or donut and hotdog cuisinier Don Kolshinski? Regulars ranged from high schooler Abigail Lovelace to journalistic paragon Daniel Mintz – opinions from hard-working Carl Pellatz to hard-talking Geronimo Garcia. The Eye was a place where we were all allowed out of the woodwork. It was Kevin’s paper, but it was our paper.

Scores of people warmed chairs in the Eye office over the years– writing, rewriting, copy editing, selling ads, answering phones and e-mails. Paid staff and volunteers. Who can even count the hundreds who have volunteered their time to make the EyeBalls successful enough to keep the presses running for yet a little more time? I’ll leave it to Kevin to thank all of them/us himself. In our individual ways we all made the Eye what it was – but that was because we were all welcomed in – and we wanted in because we were able to be part of something truly creative.

Occasionally the Eye displayed editorial biases – and, yes, even the editor’s poor judgment. The problem with being an editor is that your opinions are pretty much public business – and nobody’s judgement is 100 percent on the money. Let’s see anyone else in town write as many column inches as Kevin has during the last 17 years, and then not wish there was something he could go back and erase. It takes a thick skin to be that completely on the public record.

Yes, the Eye has been hard sometimes on the poorest among us. But it has been even rougher on some of those at the top. I would say the Eye is pretty much an equal opportunity critic of uncivil behavior. Kevin has done exactly what the editor of a small town journal should be doing – caring from dawn to dusk about that small town. There is no way to do that kind of work honestly without acquiring critics, if not outright enemies. If Editor Hoover can be accused of being a grump at times, then let it be said that he has consistently been a curmudgeon for the cause of civil society.

But, let’s face it, no true curmudgeon could write those police logs. That’s writing in the spirit of Edward Lear, e.e.cummings, John Lennon, Ogden Nash and, yes, Frank Zappa. That’s being handed some really sour lemons and making margaritas. “I read the news today, oh boy...”

Seventeen years of wonderfully creative writing like that – on top of putting together straight news articles, opinion columns, PSA’s, captions and headlines. Something often overlooked is that fact that straight journalistic writing doesn’t just roll off the keyboard. Go ahead and read any article by Kevin Hoover. From the shortest to the longest (and some are “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” long), they read, they flow, they segue, they make sense.

That’s a lot of writing. That’s a lot of composing. That’s a lot of editing. That’s a lot of late hours. That’s a lot of thinking under a deadline. Consider that for a moment – being under a deadline every minute of every day for 17 years with the whole town watching, and then having to stand behind it all.

Beyond the writing, there is the matter of actually doing the reporting, attending meetings and meetings and meetings, and fora, and doing some radio, and putting the paper together, and wading through e-mails and phone messages and being stopped by every opinionated person on the street, and fundraising, and constantly dealing with how to stay afloat. I’m getting a headache just from writing that last sentence.

The end of the Arcata Eye doesn’t imply failure – that’s hardly a word to describe 17 years of so much hard work, vision, creativity and good will together in one place. As far as I’m concerned, the Arcata Eye has been a raging success operating within the confines of a failing economic system. Its tenure on the public stage was much longer than either the Beatles’ or Jesus’s, and much shorter than the Texas legislature’s – longevity is no measure of success. The only failing that I can see is the editor’s lack of vacations. And well... maybe a bit too much ink was expended on the obvious fact that camouflage is an embarrassing fashion statement.

As the Arcata Eye disappears, it will be interesting to see how much of its spirit will live on in the Mad River Union. That’s a straightforward name with a wealth of local meaning – a good start in itself! We’re all in this watershed together and hopefully the new journal will remind us constantly of that fact. And, hopefully, we will all be in the Union at some point. Thank you Kevin and Jack for your continuing belief in the ideals of journalism and in us. Good luck with economic reality – and enjoy your yearly vacations.

P.S.: Oh yeah, speaking of “yearly,” what is your subscription rate and where do I send the check?

Alan Sanborn is a local artist, husband and father who has been lucky enough to have been a part of the Arcata Eye.

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