The last sentence of an online diary I published on March 19 ended with, “[I] wonder where we’ll all be when we meet here next.”
Now we know, or at least now I know, where I won’t be, as this is my last column for the Southwest Journal. Which, I won’t lie, hurts to type. I’m joining millions of other COVID-crushed workers. On March 27, I learned my column was being suspended, thanks to a dropping newspaper page count due to pandemic-throttled advertisers pulling the ad dollars that keep the Journal running.
Even if things return to normal, I’ve decided to give up this column and this space, but I’ve got the perspective of the times — I’m up for a new adventure, and I hope you’ll keep reading and supporting the Journal and all local media. I’ll find other ways to write about these times (support MinnPost!), because now more than ever there are important stories to be told and talked about beyond “My Minneapolis.”
So this is goodbye. It’s been a gas. Thanks to you, first and foremost, for reading my words in this space all these years. It’s been my privilege to write for you, to fill the crucial role of local newspaper columnist, and I’ve taken that role and duty seriously — to write, with a personal and sometimes intimate voice, columns about our city and your business, band, book; or about my family and friends; or late-night ruminations on life, love, loss and light. I’ll miss getting together here, and I’ve appreciated every encouraging word you’ve ever thrown my way over the years.
Thanks especially to Southwest Journal publishers Janis Hall, Terry Gahan and Zoe Gahan, who have provided readers with important stories, and their writers and editors with great freedom, for 30 years. Neighbor- hood newspapers and local media are the lifeblood of any community, and South Minneapolis has been a better place thanks to the Journal. Thanks to my editors, Sarah McKenzie, Dylan Thomas and Zac Farber, who provided me with great inspiration, solid guidance, wise counsel and good friendship, and who always had my back with their vast knowledge and deep journalism chops.
More than anything as I embark on yet another new chapter with all the rest of the gig economy warriors, I want to take this opportunity to, at this crazy juncture in our collective lives, put in a crucial word about supporting local journalism and, in particular, homegrown/local columnists.
I got the pink slip Friday, but the loss of it didn’t hit me until later that night, when I was hanging out in front of the Lowbrow, waiting for my take-out order. Cars were lined up six-deep, filled with hungry shelter-in-placers picking up dinner. Inside the shutdown restaurant on the front wall hung a framed column I wrote a year ago this month about the Lowbrow’s baseball card bar and its owner. On the street, as I chatted from a safe distance with a couple of families and made the kids laugh, a little blue Subaru pulled up. Out popped a guy who gave the Lowbrow server who was running take-out orders two big bottles of hand sanitizer.
“Free! Courtesy of Tattersall,” the server told me with a huge smile of the local distillery that started making hand sanitizer last month. It was a beautiful moment of local business camaraderie and an example of the organic chain that makes a community thrive, and I realized I had the perfect place to write about it, that little place where I could once again make minutiae into something meaningful — in my neighborhood newspaper.
Then I remembered. As I write this, the unemployment rate is at an all-time high, and I’m just another flounder, collaterally damaged by the pandemic and making it up as I go along. I’ll keep writing and reporting (contact me at the email address at the end of this column if you need a good writer), but my 13-year run of landing on your doorstep ends now.
Sigh. I’ve been the staunchest proponent for the job of columnist I know, and that won’t change. There’s a rich history of columnists writing personally in newspapers, but at the moment in these back-to-basics times, I fear that their value will be lost. So for the next columnist in this space, and for all working/ surviving columnists out there, a few parting words of advice.
Writing a local newspaper column is one of the best jobs in the world, so act like it. It takes some guts, but do your thing. Your colleagues and editors might not even get it, but your readers will. Take risks. Show us your heart, your mind, your weaknesses. Write like no one’s reading. Tell us something silly, profound, funny or serious about yourself. Tell us a story about something, anything, that happened to you or your family or friends, no matter how insignificant it might seem as a germ of an idea. Write it out. See what happens. Don’t leave the heart and snark and alt-storytelling to social media; develop your voice and use it and write, write, write. I, for one, will be reading.
When Gov. Tim Walz issued the state’s stay-at-home guidelines, news organizations were deemed part of the essential workforce, and there’s a reason. We need information gatherers, storytellers, photographers, editors, columnists and journalists to help make sense of these times. The good news in the Twin Cities is that there’s an army of great journalists doing good and sometimes thankless work these days, and they deserve your support.
For me, here, it’s time to go. See you soon, see you around, see you in the funny papers. I’m off to play my guitar, listen to my friend Robert Wilkinson’s song “Strange Times,” my friend John Swardson’s song “I Will Root for You” and my friends Matt Wilson & His Orchestra’s great new record “When I Was A Writer.” Then I have to get to work on editing my new book, a new collection, “Fear and Loving in South Minneapolis,” scheduled for publication in the fall via the University of Minnesota Press, if they’re still making books then.
Strange times, indeed. Stay home, wash your hands, hang in there. Onward. Forward, ho. I’m so glad we had so many good times together here for so many good years.
Thanks for reading.
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. This is his last “My Minneapolis” column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.