Old Man Writer | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Old Man Writer 

Why are all SLC columnists so ancient?

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Last week, a computer glitch ate my column, sparing you the five wasted minutes of reading it. I know—computer illiterate. It’s too bad, since it was probably the best column I’ve ever written, given that it embraced three topics that are central to the City Weekly mindset: gays, Greeks and hating the Boston Red Sox. All three were sent to us with a ribbon attached when the Utah Democratic Party named Jim Dabakis, a gay Greek man (Cretan, at that!) from Massachusetts as party chairman. Someday I’ll try that topic again. Good luck, Jim.

Meanwhile, I imagine that you’re right now praying for another glitch, or perhaps thinking, “Gee, why doesn’t City Weekly just hire one of those old dogs over at The Salt Lake Tribune and get rid of that sandbagging Saltas altogether?” Well, in deference to our youthful demographics, I remain aboard simply because I’m probably among the youngest newspaper columnists in town. I’m 57. I keep saying we need to get younger voices in here, but I’ve become the crazy uncle no one listens to.

Thanks to their pictures alongside their columns—a messy remnant heaped on daily newspapers by some long-lost newspaper consultant—I suspect most of the Tribune columnists are older than me. Among the few I’m not sure of is that Horiuchi fellow, because Japanese, like us Greeks, age beautifully. For all I know, he’s only 37. But Kragthorpe?—nah, one look at that hairline says it all. Monson?—didn’t he catch passes at BYU from Virgil Carter? Kirby?—if he’s still sneaking the beers of his youth, he opens them with a “church key.” Wharton?—his father was my grade school principal at Copperton Elementary, so I know that one. McEntee? That’s a U-Pick-Em proposition, but I’m going with her older than me just on dino-principle alone. The guys on the editorial page look like daguerreotypes left over from a Civil War documentary.

All of that should tell you everything you need to know about what’s wrong with today’s newspaper business. Yet newspapers wonder why they don’t have the readership they once did. As a prideful disclaimer, though, I must say that despite me (and despite the Internet, Facebook and Twitter, et al.), the readership of City Weekly remains strong and young—we are moving more papers than ever, according to Verified Audit, and our core readership remains loyal and young, according to The Media Audit. I guess in my case, our young readers look to me as the father they never had—which beats the drinking buddy they never had, and I should know, since I went through that phase for a couple of decades.

It remains downright silly that columnists hang around so long. I don’t think it’s all that healthy for the newspaper business or for a community. I mean, each morning I pick up the paper and see those faces and I ask myself, “Would I keep going back to see the Rockettes if the group were comprised of the same troupers as in 1970?” Yet it’s not uncommon for a columnist to have a writing slot for 40 years or more. That discounts long-in-the-tooth curmudgeons like Andy Rooney, who was a toothless curmudgeon when he was born.

I began thinking about this over the past weekend during the annual convention of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies—newly named the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, a paean to our changing distribution channels. During one assemblage, I looked around and saw a sea of grey hair or no hair. It scared me to death. At my first AAN convention in 1990 in Denver, those same heads were black as coal pitch. This year, we were in New Orleans. People were going to bed on time, yawning at the transvestite shows, and complaining of arthritic knees. In 1991, we also had our convention in New Orleans. People didn’t go to bed at all. In 1991, you met someone new while sharing cigarettes. This year, the sharing item of choice was reading glasses.

Is it really a good idea for old folks to tell young folks how to think or vote? Is it only the greybeards who should be handed the keys to an information channel (yes, we’re called a channel now, not newspapers—and not by my choosing) and making the decisions as to what is important to write about? Or talk about? I don’t think so.

Bingham Canyon Railroads: Yes, it’s the shameless plug department. There’s nothing in it for me, and I don’t know the author, Don Strack. He’s produced a new book, Images of Rail: Bingham Canyon Railroads, about my hometown of Bingham Canyon, Utah. Strack’s compilation is a collection of historical photos of the rail lines and ore cars that once traversed the steep canyon that became the biggest hole on earth.

Folks who remember the glory days of Bingham Canyon will enjoy these pictures, especially the many amazing bridges that spanned places like Markham Gulch, Carr Fork and Highland Boy. Strack spent some time working in the mine as a brakeman in the Kennecott Mine, starting in 1979. By then, I’d put in a year on the college track gangs, which were some of the best times of my life, so I feel a very personal connection to this book beyond the fact he found some photos of the old Bingham & Garfield line that ran just above our home.

Bingham Canyon is gone. The mountain is gone. Our homes are gone. Our memories live on, and books like this ensure others are reminded why Bingham people are indeed special.

Brigham Canyon Railroads is published by Arcadia Publishing, which specializes in local and regional history books. Online at ArcadiaPublishing.com.

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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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