This has not been a fun week for my family, with the announcement that publication of the West Side Index, Gustine Press-Standard and Tuesday Review will cease at the end of June. Well, longer than a week, actually, but this one in particular is very surreal. Even from 3,000 miles away.

But it is an outcome that more than one family, and family business, in our country has suffered during this past year of pandemic.

We aren’t special in that regard.

It is a different animal, though, when your business has an important responsibility to the community which it serves. And that business has been a part of your identity for most of your life.

The loss of our newspapers means little to those who pull strings in Sacramento and Washington, who vote to add regulations and increase fees on nameless and faceless business owners. It means even less to bureaucrats whose checks are backed by taxpayers, but paid by “the government.”

But it means everything to those who have worked countess hours and weekends, Friday nights at football, weeknights covering a meeting or doing deliveries, late production nights up against deadlines, sweeping floors, and yes, scrubbing toilets, to make sure that responsibility was met.

The newspaper office was my second home, the place where as a little girl I could get into all sorts of trouble under the guise of “helping.”

Very few places were off limits for my curiosity. Except maybe Stanley’s letterpress, which fascinated me to watch in operation, but definitely looked too dangerous for my clumsy self. Dad’s warning to stay back when it was running was heeded without hesitation.

I couldn’t say the same for the new rotary photo cutter on which I managed to slice off my fingertip with when I was 12 or so. Of course I did it while enthusiastically creating photo paper curly-cues by shaving off millimeter slices of photo paper, and approximately one minute after Mom told me to quit playing with the cutter because I was going to hurt myself.

The newspaper office was where I learned to professionally answer phones, and Sarah at the front desk hid snacks for Natalie and I to have when we stopped by after school.

That is where I saw my first computer, a CompuGraphic that was the size of my old Geo Metro and had a screen smaller than my iPad.

It was where I learned about duty, responsibility, commitment and hard work.

Bob Novoa liked to tell me that my time as advertising director was my second time selling ads for the paper. The first time just involved Dad bringing me (still in diapers) to drop off a proof for that week’s ad.

This has not just been a business or a newspaper. It has been relationships with people that I worked with. Business owners, fellow staff and readers are family. In telling our towns’ stories we’ve shared in your joys and grief, in the successes and tragedies. And we’ve shared our own.

Failure is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for the Type-A females who are found in our family tree. I’d sooner saw off my arm than admit I’ve failed at something, especially if I’m still standing.

What that failure means is the worst part for all of us.

It means we’ve let down those that we consider part of our family, and people who absolutely matter to us.

More so than the inevitable second guessing of decisions and circumstances, or blaming any of the multitude of issues facing business owners and newspaper publishers nationally.

This was a decision that, intellectually, I knew was possible the day California announced lockdowns, and became more obvious as “15 days to slow the spread” became 15 months of shifting narratives and shifting blame.

I’ve taken enough business classes to understand the business cycle and creative destruction. I understand the reality of meeting payroll when there is zero income, and doing it for months.

And I knew the effort and hours it would take to try to rebuild from our business’s reality, especially a profitable model that could work in the future.

Deep down, like my mom, I thought that some crazy miracle might make itself known. That something would give, and this would ultimately be another hurdle we faced and overcame. That, as in previous downturns and setbacks, there would be some path we could take to just keep going. Even if it meant struggles, pay cuts and a few tough years.

Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending. Or the outcome you want.

More than a few tears have been shed.....during and after phone calls back home with my mom and as I sit and write this column. More than a few of the tears are bittersweet.

Some of my best life moments and blessings are tied to the newspaper. It has afforded me friendships, connections and achievements that never would have happened otherwise.

Like meeting Vince and having Samuel, and being a part of Fall Festival. Or writing this column.

I wouldn’t even know where to begin to try to figure out who I would be as a person without it.

The newspaper has been a cornerstone. No matter what chaos or craziness that was happening around me, the paper had to get done and the schedule never changed. It was something to always count on, even if it involved juggling schedules, working in the car, heading back to the office after I put Sam to bed, or answering emails and texts after 10 p.m. during mass-mailer week.

The paper has been an important piece of home that kept me anchored in this new life we’ve started in Tennessee. Monday nights have been marked for easy dinners and proofing news stories since before we moved, geography didn’t change that.

So how can you even begin to say goodbye to something that has been a constant for 43 years?

You don’t. Not really.

You turn the page and see what happens next.

And you say thank you, though it’s not nearly enough, for the friendships, moments and memories.

 

Staff columnist Toni Butero can be reached at tbutero@mattosnews.com or by calling (209) 862-2222.