This is a difficult column to write. I don’t usually have any problem finding words, as my very patient editors will agree. But this isn’t the usual story I’ve written for The News Tribune for the past 11 years. It’s not an arts review or preview, it’s not a lifestyle feature, breaking news or Sunday story. It’s a farewell, because as of Friday (May 19) I will no longer be the arts reporter at The Tacoma News Tribune.
Many of you might have heard by now that my job is being cut as part of broader restructuring across the paper. I’m extremely grateful to those who’ve emailed, called or posted online their sympathy and good wishes — it’s given me courage for whatever is coming up in my career. Right now, I’m not sure what I’ll be doing, but I hope it will be something that uses my skills to do some good in the world.
Meanwhile, I’m just grateful to have spent 11 years (to the day, almost) covering Tacoma’s arts community and watching it grow. My first TNT appearance was actually a quote by then-columnist Peter Callaghan from a story I’d written for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, saying how “that dodgy industrial wasteland with the nastiest gangs in the Northwest, an arsenic-laden waterfront and a scary downtown” had blossomed into a city with “excellent art museums and … soaring historical buildings just crying out for artist residents.” Tacoma was “finally on the road out of C-grade provincialism,” said my May 2006 self, having recently arrived from a magazine job in Houston.
Since then, I’ve seen Tacoma grow into a self-assured, arts-driven town that knows it’s not Seattle, and likes it. I’ve covered the Broadway Center for the Performing Arts going from badly run to beautifully renovated and energetic. I’ve seen museums evolve, directors and curators come and go. I’ve seen Symphony Tacoma change conductors and names, and fill houses with world premieres. I’ve seen galleries open (Fulcrum, Spaceworks, 253Collective) and close (Critical Line, Ice Box, Traver). I’ve interviewed celebrities from Alice Cooper to Olivia Newton-John. I’ve roamed the state writing travel stories. I’ve written about human corpses, tiny houses, naked puppets (don’t ask).
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Along the way, I’ve had the astonishing chance to learn and learn and learn. Not just about art, music, theater, dance and film, though I’ve appreciated that, but about new ways of telling stories. When I began here, Facebook and YouTube were still kind of edgy. Twitter had only just begun. I learned how those platforms gave me the chance — unheard of in predigital journalism — to truly connect with a whole community of readers and hear their stories too. I learned how to blog, make videos, shoot my own photos. I even made a couple of podcasts.
But most of all, I learned from my colleagues. Excellent journalists all, they have also been mentors, friends and partners in crime. They’ve been patient with my ignorance and encouraging of my weird ideas. As people and professionals, I salute and thank them.
Which brings me to my last point — how to keep these people doing what we all, as a society, desperately need them to do: report real news.
Many of you have asked how you can support the TNT as we struggle, like all traditional news media, to survive in the digital landscape. Here’s what you can and should do, if you value unbiased local news.
▪ Renew your subscription. Print or online, your subscription helps us stay in business. Many people think news is free on the internet. It’s only free if journalists don’t get paid a living wage, and there are many wonderful journalists still reporting at the TNT.
▪ Click on stories. Online ads bring revenue, and advertisers want to know folks are reading our content. The more clicks, the more revenue, and the more quality journalism you get.
▪ Like and share our stories on Facebook. While we post them on other social media, Facebook accounts for a third of all our traffic to stories. Every time you share, we get more clicks — and we stay in business.
When I wrote this column, I did a database search on my stories for inspiration. I found 2,504. I’ve no idea if that number is exact, but it doesn’t really matter. What matters most is the effect they’ve had on this town that I moved to as an immigrant and now call home. Judging by all your kind emails and comments, that effect can be summed up by an admiring letter we received just months after I started here. Yes, it was written by an artist, but one with a deep knowledge and love of our community.
Here’s what Lynn Di Nino wrote June 26, 2006:
“My heart sang as I read today's paper featuring photos and a story of the Urban Art Festival in downtown Tacoma. … I know your advance coverage of this second annual event increased participation. When The News Tribune recaps these local public entertainments like you have been doing recently, I am just sure the reporting helps foster the sense of community that is building here in our city.
“Along these lines, the recent arts reporting of Rosemary Ponnekanti really rounds out your coverage of regional interests and also lets our audiences know that there is a lot going on here. Rosemary's story today…was well-researched and reflected deep thought and knowledge of visual art, and in general I notice her stories are evenhanded. I speak for many who are really grateful to you for expanded coverage of the arts.”
Thanks, Lynn — and thanks, Tacoma. It’s been an honor and an inspiration to do this job. And it’s been a fun ride.
Please send arts and culture information to editor Randy McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org.