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THE TRIBUNE'S *REAL* VIEW: Rusty fires my staff with a ghost and a gaffe

Of trees and terminations 

(Click links and pix to follow along) 

COLUMBIA, 6/5/17 (Op Ed) --

My voice echoed in the empty hallways, corridors, newsrooms, restrooms, and offices across my family newspaper's Columbia Tribune home.   I was surprised when my trusty managing editor of thirty years popped his head into my office.

"Came back to grab a few things," he said.  "What's up?" 

"What the HELL does Rusty think he's doing?"

"Rusty," for readers unaware, is Rustan Burton, the Trib's new publisher, who in Sunday's edition savaged the old gang on their way out the door.  

With a coy smile, Rusty compared local journalism legends like political cartoonist John Darkow and sportswriter Joe Walljasper to deadwood trimmed off John Sam Williamson's giant bur oak tree in McBaine. 

The tree got graffiti sprayed on it.   Darkow and a bunch of my longtime staffers got the ax.  

"I have no clue what Rusty's up to," Jimmy said.   "I'm retired.   You just gave me a send off, remember?"

"Listen:  We can't have Rusty wrecking a 115-year-old legacy," I said.  

"It isn't the Tribune's View anymore," Jimmy said.  "It's just Hank's View, for a few more weeks, anyway."

"Well, Hank's view is that the old gang deserves better," I explained.   "I may not have said this enough, but we were a family." 

"I don't know if Rusty gets that," Jimmy said.  "He's not from here." 

"Here" means a few thousand employees over the years; hundreds of awards; hundreds of thousands of sentences; and if you include Darkow's cartoons -- each worth a thousand words, as the adage goes -- maybe millions of words.  

Words, pictures, photos, and sketches, mostly about Columbia:  its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful.   The up-and-coming; the slowly receding. 

A chronicle of change.  

I get change.  In my 80+ years on this Earth, I've learned you can do change right or do it wrong.   I like to think we've done change right, in over a century of reporting the small-town, Midwestern, American experience, delivered to readers every day at the hands of reporters, editors, designers, printers, circulation and advertising, building, printing press, and IT staff, and little ol' me, the publisher. 

A job Rusty now has.  And like his name, he's rusty, especially when it comes to terminating good people.    

"It hasn't been all sweet goodbyes," like Darkow's final class-act cartoon and Walljasper's upbeat farewell,  Jimmy said.   "Mariah is refusing to leave.  Rusty fired her, but she flew up into a corner of Caroline's old office and says she'll haunt this place forever."

I know this sounds odd, but Jodie, our longtime business and Boone County government reporter, actually brought a ghost to the newsroom.   Her name is Mariah and until Jodie left, she lived on his desk.        

"Did Rusty offer her a severance package?" I asked. 

"Severance?  Are you kidding?   He took out a ShopVac and tried to vac her off the wall.  Caroline would be furious." 

Caroline, for those who don't know her, is one of the nicest, most gracious editors around.   She left B. R. -- Before Rusty -- and we haven't stopped missing her.   I found it interesting that Mariah would take up residence in her old office.   Caroline was gentle, but no pushover.   I guess ghosts can sense those things. 

"What's Rusty gonna do about this defiant haunt?" I wanted to know. 

"It's a standoff," Jimmy said.  "Rusty compared firing Mariah to remodeling the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland.  'Gotta cut out the termite rot,' he said.   She put a hex on him:  Doomed to write bad editorials forever." 

"A bad writing hex?   Hmm.  I wonder if she'd be interested in joining my new venture?" I asked.   

"New venture?" 

"Think about it," I said.   "With a ghost that can make our competitors write bad copy, we'd have a monopoly on good news." 

Good news.   No more Mizzou layoffs.   No more downtown Columbia looking like a giant dormitory.  No more mediocre Tiger coaches.  Pay equity in our notoriously low-wage city.   Rusty the Bighearted Boss. 

Jodie had a picture of Mariah when she was a kid.   "What does she look like now?" I asked. 

"No idea," Jimmy said.  "She's a ghost.  But hey -- I could ask Darkow to draw her." 

The Mariah he sketched has perk and a smirk, arms folded defiantly, pen and notepad in her hands, floating before the bur oak tree.   Kind of like the Lorax in that other Darkow cartoon.  

"I'd write for the Trib," Mariah says in Darkow's depiction.   "But who needs the termination?"  

-- H. Jay Dubya, III 

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