My new journalism job started off with a sloppy stroke—not of a pen, but a paintbrush. I recall a dull, battleship-gray color. It was a newspaper going weekly that was moving into an old office on 400 South, and someone had to apply a new coat of paint. I was a chief (managing editor) without any Indians (staff writers, copy editors). So, I picked up a brush and started slathering. If I didn’t pitch in, who else would?
It was that do-it-yourself attitude that pulled us through when capital wasn’t, shall we say, bountiful. But really, when you have none, you haven’t a choice. There were a few scary times in the early ’90s, like the day the IRS showed up at the front counter, but those pressures were passed on to the owner, John Saltas. Mine was to fill a paper each week and do it on a shoestring (for you kids out there, that means on virtually nothing). I took a 50 percent pay cut from a daily television news gig at KSL to edit pretty much the entire weekly paper, find stories for freelancers and write a few myself. I was looking for a news challenge more than a healthy paycheck. I found one.
The height of the paper and its DIY attitude, as far as I was concerned, was when freelancer Lynn Packer was putting out a series of articles about the bankruptcy fraud involving the then-Mayor Deedee Corradini. She and her attorneys convinced a federal judge to seal evidence as to her involvement in the collapse of the Bonneville Pacific Corp. Our only hope was to get it unsealed in a hearing, but that would take more than a paintbrush. We needed a high-priced attorney. Alas, our budget line on that didn’t exist. Nothing, however, stopped Packer, as determined and relentless a watchdog investigative reporter as I have ever tried to manage. We eventually got some free legal advice from an expensive litigator, a guy pugnaciously named Rocky Anderson.
So, Packer requested a federal hearing, not knowing that reporters didn’t do such a thing on their own. He then got some plasterboard and pens and drew up dreadfully confusing charts. It was like a bad high school project, with lines and arrows going every which way. But, I agreed to listen to his rehearsal and sit with him in court. Who else would?
Corradini had three attorneys in the courtroom who couldn’t hide their smirks. We had a resolute reporter and a judge who paid attention. Of course, we won. The documents were released to the public! (Capra would have directed the film version.)
I was a bit disappointed that the mainstream media weren’t waiting on the courthouse steps to carry us on their shoulders for putting sunshine on the mayor’s misdeeds. I think they saw something called Private Eye Weekly outhustle them. My initial reaction, of course, was to celebrate in a bar like they’d do at a big-city daily newspaper. But Packer didn’t drink, so he went home to write. I went back to the paper to do some editing, because if I didn’t do it, who would?