For much of 2007, the aura of a certain man has drifted around my office at
City Weekly. It hasn’t been every day or even every week. But this guy has a certain cachet. He’s made an imprint on me.
His name is Lynn Packer. I used to watch him as a teenager and then as a University of Utah student, when he worked as a reporter on KSL television. Later, as I started cobbling together my own career in newspaper reporting, Packer began writing freelance pieces for
Private Eye Weekly, which eventually became the paper you are reading now—
Salt Lake City Weekly.
Packer struck fear in government offices around town. The issues in which his byline appeared flew off the racks. He broke one investigative story after another in the ’80s and up through the early part of this decade—most of them related to former Salt Lake City Mayor Deedee Corradini and her involvement in fraudulent acts revolving around her partnership in the now defunct Bonneville Pacific Corp.
Packer also had a hand in
City Weekly’s extensive coverage of scandal surrounding the 2002 Winter Olympics.
I’m unearthing this ancient history today to illustrate the importance of a legacy. Packer is only one of several reporters and editors who have made
City Weekly the best alternative voice in the state (and believe me, there are many of them—with a growing number of them showing up on-line). These days, Packer has his own successful business and is no longer as free to write for
CW. No worries. I miss him, but the rest of us remain fully engaged in the challenge.
Last month, the
CW editorial staff and several of our freelance writers met for a year-end retreat in the kind of place you might imagine we’d do our best work—Port O’ Call private club, a few blocks from our downtown offices. (We didn’t start passing around shots of Patrón Silver until
after our work had ended at 3 p.m.)
We were determined to look back on what this paper had accomplished in 2007, but more importantly, what we hoped to pull off in 2008. Managing editor Jerre Wroble gathered up every 2007 issue from our dusty archive closet. Together, she and I established a ranking system for our news and feature coverage. Mostly, we wanted to see where we rated in terms of hard news and investigative coverage. Since that category of journalism has always been the foundation of
City Weekly, we wanted to see how well we measured up in that area last year.
We did OK with investigative pieces last year. I don’t have space to mention each of them, but one of my favorites was by staff writer Ted McDonough, headlined “Alcohol Will Rot Your Brain and Other Lies Your Government Tells You.” McDonough’s well-researched story pointed out that much of Utah state government’s $3-plus million effort to control teen drinking is based on thin—if not downright junky—science. No other local publication brought you this story.
In fact, every other news agency in town brought you stories that simply parroted back the Legislature’s and state Health Department’s statistics on underage drinking, including the emotional hook that teenagers who drink a few beers face a vast risk of becoming alcoholics as adults.
Scary—if it were true. But there are plenty of studies out there to prove otherwise. McDonough revealed some of those studies.
You could call that advocacy journalism, and you’d be right. Mostly, it’s advocacy for context, multiple sources and relevance. And we’ll do it again this year, too. At our staff retreat, we talked a lot about what 2008 will look like.
Here is a promise: You will see more of the stories that have helped put us on the map in Utah. We’ll bring you a deeper treatment of the causes and effects of the cultural friction we all experience in living in this state. I’ve come to believe that anyone who resides in Utah for more than a few years begins to harden up against the political and cultural nuances that define and divide us. But at this newspaper, those nuances absolutely fascinate us.
It gets easy to grow indifferent toward topics like polygamy, liquor control, financial and real estate scams, to name a few. Those issues are often enmeshed with a largely theocratic state run almost exclusively by a monolithic Republican Party, and they often seem to blend in with the landscape.
Around here, however, we still find those stories exciting and important to write. Whatever defines this city and state—its power structure, its arts and culture, its politics, its very DNA—we’ll be hot on the trail of those things in 2008.
My own interests tilt toward in-depth sports stories (hard to find in the typical sports coverage in Utah) and profiles about people other publications either treat predictably or worse—ignore altogether.
You’ll also find more meat to our Website and an effort to keep our new baby, Salt Blog, well-fed and sassy.
I love looking back and value the old journalists of yore. But I’d much rather look ahead. In 2008, we’ll keep you guessing, and always wanting for more. I promise.