My words were first pressed into newsprint in my column “The Blind Leading the Blind” in my high school paper The Thompson Valley Voice in 1985– I wrote about daring to be different at a time in life when doing so is nothing short of life threatening. This Sunday (April 28)’s “Around Colorado” column in the Denver Post will likely be the last time my inky words appear in a newspaper– I wrote about flower gardens to visit in Fort Collins.
I’ve written a column for the majority of my 34 years as a journalist. I wrote about surviving high school for The Voice, skiing for Boulder’s Colorado Daily in college, life as a 20-something for Gannett News Service and life as a lesbian for papers across the country including the crowning glory of The Washington Post.
I was also a news correspondent for the Boston Globe at the time and thought my career had pretty much peaked. Then late in 2011 I got a phone call from Denver Post editor Kyle Wagner asking me to lunch.
Over Italian food at a downtown restaurant, she told me about the new “Out West” section the paper was putting together to launch in the new year.
Her: You would be one of four columnists writing a monthly column to anchor the section.
Me: Really?! What will I be writing about?
Her: Whatever you want. I picked you because of your voice and your roots in this state.
Me: (thankful there was no food in my mouth when it dropped open in shock) No f–king way!
And so it was that in February of 2012 my days as a Denver Post columnist giddily began. I wrote about the importance of imagination in a cookie-cutter world, my efforts to raise independent children in an overprotective era and the healing powers of fishing with my Dad for the first time since my brother died three decades prior. Those were heady days when I frequently heard from readers telling me that I had written about something that was also true for them, although they hadn’t realized it before reading my column.
But then things changed. Out West was no longer viable so we columnists (2 of the original four and two newer comers) were moved to travel, where our topic was narrowed to places to visit within the boundaries of our state–which is dream job too, just for somebody else. This writer’s heart never left the freedom Out West.
This final column is my 87th for the Post. I’ve been at odds with my editors about the content of those columns for the last 50 or so.
Since coming under the ownership of “The Man” aka the hedge fund Alden Global Capital the Post has been turned into a cash cow. They’ve ruthlessly cut the staff (from around 300 down to about 60) and sent the profits from the paper to stockholders instead of re-investing in the paper. Success is measured in web hits, not things that can’t be measured, like storytelling that evokes emotions by connecting us to the commonalities that makes us human.
Enter the “listicle.” You may have noticed that most of the articles in the paper’s travel section now start with a number. Seven places to watch the sunset, five places to get a good burger while skiing, three waterparks not to list…one way to end Chryss’ career at the Post.
When you find yourself using your platform, your voice, your tiny slice of real estate in the ever-shrinking landscape of print journalism to write lists that are designed to compete with Yelp, well it’s time to say good-bye.
So it’s good-bye to newspapers, that have been so good to me and, most importantly, to the people who read them. Sadly, I think I’m just “on trend.”
I know things have been changing dramatically in the newspaper industry the past two decades. I’ve been telling my journalism students all about it. Last month I sat in a student government meeting where the end of the print version of the New York Times on campus was applauded. “We’re saving trees,” the student announced. Because in theory the students will all now read it online. But will they? Or will they succumb to the click bait of the latest on the size of Kim Kardashian’s butt? With some notable exceptions, I’m going to say the latter.
The next chapter for me is actual chapters. I’m finally writing the book my life has set out for me, after decades of resisting it. I’m going to write my brother’s story.
Mark was 15 when he took one of my Dad’s shotguns, climbed the foothill behind our house, looked out over the beautiful vista, including the peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, surrounding our Loveland home and ended his life. I still struggle to understand how he could be looking at something so beautiful and still want to close his eyes forever. His 12-year-old sister was watching Saturday morning cartoons, unaware that her childhood had just ended.
Thirty-eight years later my brother’s killer is still out there, stronger than ever. Suicide is the leading cause of death for 10 to 24 year olds in Colorado. It takes more young people from us than disease or accidents or anything–and we can stop it. The number one, by far, mitigating factor to stop suicide is a trusted adult children can talk to. Join me, be that adult, save lives.
When that is done I’ll be happy to tell you all the best places to go for a hamburger.