Saturday, March 16, 2019

On opinion pages, and Desert Sage

We woke up this morning to an unusual March snow shower in Deming, befitting a day much earlier in the winter. I ventured out to the post office and book shop down the road in order to give myself a taste of a weekend before retreating to my garage workspace to prepare for a long day tomorrow, covering the 30th memorial Bataan Death March.

Which, of course, I am further postponing by blowing the dust off this blog, but only for a brief announcement.

The Gannett company, which owns the Deming Headlight and Las Cruces Sun-News, is giving opinion pages a re-think, mainly of reducing them drastically. That includes editorials, which give a community's newspaper its voice. Some papers are eliminating these entirely.

For now, the Desert Sage column has a space on the shrinking iceberg, but the melt is underway.

To review, Desert Sage is an opinion column that originated on the Deming Headlight's opinion page in July of 2001. The author was Win Mott, a local Anglican bishop who lived and pastored in Luna and Grant counties before retiring and moving to Canada.

Win aimed for a slower, more thoughtful read, including philosophical and occasionally pastoral takes on the news of the day, and local news in particular. He wrote weekly until 2013, when he began sharing the column with a few other locals: Lynn Olson, Richard Thatcher, and me. From time to time there were other "pinch hitters" for the column,  like Paul Bringman. I handed in 1-2 columns a month.

Late in the summer of 2014, Win and Headlight editor Bill Armendariz invited me to take over the weekly deadline, Win moved on, and the Headlight began paying me. It was in 2017 that I got hired on as a news reporter, and I have kept the column going.

Under my byline, Desert Sage has turned more to state and national affairs, but maintains the tone of an amused, if often disappointed, desert denizen who reads, writes, and thinks. (And uses Oxford commas on his own time.)

It is hard to assess how large an audience the column has, but in the online universe that is Gannett's focus, its reach is small.

There are exceptions. Most recently, after my county joined other New Mexico counties in jumping in with the "constitutional sheriff" movement, my message of disapproval got some traffic and attracted more hate mail than usual. So did my caution about a large oil and gas discovery in the Permian Basin.

In 2018, USA Today gave a major boost to two of my columns, one about the U.S. Supreme Court and the other about detention center profiteering.

Other times, I write about humanities-based topics, like handwriting or writing letters, local theatre or education. These usually vanish into the louder streams of the worldwide web but they are very much part of the column's unique approach. It is my view that the crazy headline-grabbing stories follow from a culture that approaches education, the humanities, and the arts as it does.

In any case, it continues for now as a weekly print column and I have just begun, with KRWG Public Media, a weekly audio version. The first one aired last week and is available on KRWG's website.

My column this week, about the strange presidential announcement by Beto O'Rourke via Vanity Fair magazine, will be heard and posted sometime next week, one week behind publication in the Sun-News.

It also still appears in the Deming Headlight, of course, where Desert Sage began nearly 18 years ago.