It's creepy to write your own obituary. Nonetheless, I'm dead. This truly is Whitt's End, my final column at the Dallas Observer.
While I'm actually alive and relatively well, budget cuts — you've heard of those? — have forced the Observer to eliminate its full-time sportswriting position, one of the few, and one of the last, in alternative weeklies. Basically I'm getting the old "it's not you, it's me" routine. But semantics are of small consolation when, in fact, your spouse of six years is ditching your ass. One week your syntax don't stink, the next you're the fat that requires trimming.
Last week, my final proper column for the paper was about veteran Rangers star Michael Young. As a tie into the paper's apocalypse-themed Best of Dallas issue, it was teased on the cover with a headline that screamed: "The End is Near!"
Irony is a funny, cold-hearted bitch like that.
I'll be fine. VVM graciously sent me packing, and even offered me this rare chance to say goodbye. I also have that afternoon radio show at KRLD-FM 105.3 The Fan that affords me an opinion outlet. With any luck some columns and blogging may show up at CBS' web site.
It is, however, unsettling at best waking up without a newspaper gig. Haven't done it, in fact, since accepting a staff position at UT-Arlington's The Shorthorn in 1983.
I arrived at the Observer in September of 2005 anxious to shove envelopes and obliterate barriers and yes — shit, yes! — express myself in a journalistic manner that was forbidden at the conservative Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where I'd toiled since 1986. My plan wasn't to have you agree with me, only to make you curious — or even furious — over my offerings. I hope I both pissed you off and turned you on. For the most part, I think it worked.
In six years I wrote more than 300 columns and won 13 national, state and local writing awards. I opined about everything from Terrell Owens to Russ Martin to Dwayne Goodrich to Dirk Nowitzki to my all-time favorite athlete, Eric, an autistic basketball player in the Special Olympics. In the last 12 months alone, I've witnessed the Rangers in the World Series, the Mavericks in the NBA Finals and the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. Well, at least their stadium.
I've never viewed being a sportswriter as a job. More so a privilege. Getting paid to attend sporting events is something I knew I wanted to do from the time I was 8 years old, when I'd listen to Rangers games on the radio, scribble my recaps on a Big Chief tablet and then pester my parents and friends to read them. Born to write. Dedicated to being right.
Unfortunately newspaper sports columnists are a somewhat dying breed, especially at alt-weeklies. I may be merely a symptom instead of the sickness, but I'm also a casualty. Just this year Jim Reeves (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) and Jean-Jacques Taylor (The Dallas Morning News) left their long-time posts at mainstream papers for Internet-based writing. Not a month goes by that we don't absorb the news of another round of layoffs at the DMN or FWS-T and, shoot, even Observer competitor Quick recently shuttered its operation. The biggest local media drama come 2012 will be which mainstream remaining columnist will virtually blink first: Randy Galloway or Tim Cowlishaw?
And to think, I grew up in an era when Dallas had two daily papers — the DMN and Dallas Times Herald — and the FWS-T published both a morning and afternoon edition.
During my Observer career it's been a pleasure and an honor to work for editors like Julie Lyons, Mark Donald and Joe Tone and alongside staff writers Robert Wilonsky and Jim Schutze, who remain the true blood coursing through the paper's print and online veins. I have no doubt the Observer will fervently remain a relevant, raucous option to the rest of the metroplex's mainstream media bullshit.
You'll carry on just fine without Entourage. Without Mike Modano. Sans the NBA preseason. And, yes, without me.
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In death, here's hoping my great beyond is half as fun and fruitful as my life at the Observer.
Don't be a stranger.
Editor's note: Richie's not always right — you ever hear his take on paternity leave for athletes? — but he often is, and he certainly is right about this. It sucks. The Observer is one of only a handful of alt-weeklies to have ever employed a full-time sportswriter, and one of the last to bid that job adieu. For now we will continue covering sports — the games themselves and the culture and business that go with them — on our news blog, Unfair Park, and in these pages when the need arises. And we'll obviously continue to focus on local news, music, entertainment, food and booze. That last one should come in especially handy this week.
—Joe Tone, editor