Dino-spite 

Tribune staffers picked a poor time and place to take a bite out of John Saltas.

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As an ethnic fellow with a real curiosity for family origins, I’m always attracted to names that are filled with consonants or end with -as, -akis, -ich or a single vowel. April 15, I spoke at the annual fundraiser for The Daily Utah Chronicle, the student-run newspaper at the University of Utah. As I stood before the gathering, I looked to my left, and—wonder of wonders—there sat a table of persons with names fitting my name-curiosity criteria.

I’d never met any of them. As events took a rather pathetic turn just moments later, I can say I’m glad of that. I had tried begging off from speaking at the event since I don’t have anything valuable to deliver anyway. But I was told it would be a good chance for people about to enter the outside workforce to hear that there may indeed be opportunity for young professionals in journalism from a person who had bucked the system. I agreed to give it a try. Actually, I mostly tried to forget it, and only wrote a couple pages of bullet points on some paper about two hours before the event. This would not be a repeat of The King’s Speech.

I guess I must have been wearing colors offensive to the aforementioned table of persons with weird names. I hadn’t been at the dais more than a minute when I couldn’t help but notice the faces: at least two wore sourpuss expressions, another expressed quiet exasperation and yet another bore both of the above plus a folded-arm body-language countenance that spoke volumes. It was awkward enough, given that the banquet took place at La Caille’s Garden Room atrium and the peacocks were already loudly mocking me. It was equally awkward finding a common message for a group that was spread horizontally before me and ranged in age from 20 to 90. But this particular table, representing the best of The Salt Lake Tribune, looked like they could have used a Happy Meal. Talk about dour.

It wasn’t the first time a Tribune person had given me the evil eye—but Rolly and Warchol, among many others, don’t mind sharing a beer afterward. I’d never met this trio before, and only recognized them from their handsome pictures in the daily paper. Carricaburu—now there’s an exotic sounding name I could appreciate. Alas, it was not to be. Anastasi—when I saw him, I remembered using the word “irony” a couple times in my talk. Ironic, I thought, that as Holy Week approached, I was in a room with a person whose name in Greek translates to resurrection. The Tribune could use some. I’m pretty sure he was there to watch me die, though.

And finally, McEntee. I’ll never forget the first adoring words she ever spoke to me: “Put a sock in it, John.” She loudly proclaimed that at nearly the same time I pointed to the Tribune table and said it was comprised of journalistic dinosaurs. I also pointed to the table belonging to the lone soul I recognized from the Deseret News, Brad Rock, whom I admire as a writer and columnist, and said similar. City Weekly’s table got the same treatment. I missed Joe Bauman, who worked for decades at the Deseret News and was there for a Chronicle Hall of Fame honor. So he raised his hand and made sure I pointed him out, too. He later did a Stegosaurus imitation and spoke of his being a prominent player in Utah’s first underground newspapers of the 1960s, including the eponymous Pillar of Salt. Guess who I admire?

I wasn’t bothered that McEntee blurted out what she did. It just came at a rather dumb time and place. We later had a brief talk. I think we ultimately agreed that being offensive comes with the turf. I was bothered, however, that she had caused me to lose track of my speech’s bullet points. I was trying to tell the younger attendees—whom I termed Velociraptors—that the future is theirs to grab, to forget worrying about what jobs are out there in journalism, but to create them and to embrace the new forms they’re already fluent in—social networks, mobile, apps—and to be prepared to strike when the next opportunity for societal change arises. And it will come. But I ended up mumbling the last bit, so I was peeved about that.

I was also peeved for resorting to such a lame cliché and comparison as dinosaurs representing the old ways and Velociraptors representing the new. I immediately knew that the finger needed to point at myself first and foremost, and I concluded by inviting the raptors to take the first bite out of me. I hope they do so, because they’ll see it works. They just need to go for it—push back at anachronistic institutions, keep it local (have you re-upped your Tribune subscription with the foreign call center yet?) and not to wait for an absentee owner like Dean Singleton to style their world.

McEntee said exactly the same thing that was told to me and to City Weekly for over two decades. Irony, indeed—one newspaper voice trying to hush another one. We’re a fly on their elephant ass, and they’re just professional tail-swatters.

So maybe they weren’t upset at me being there despite MediaOne’s rumored childish resistance to financially support the annual banquet because I was speaking. No, it may be that they were simply fuming at not tasting the Pulitzer Prize they had set the table for during 2010’s Elizabeth Smart kidnapping trial.

Yeah, that’s it. They were denied! Oh, the humanity! When Singleton didn’t pop for Christmas a few years ago, City Weekly bought a Christmas party for Tribune staffers. I see a Happy Meal delivery in someone’s future.

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