Behind the news, its a dog's world

Posted: Friday, May 07, 2004

Brandon Loomis is city editor of the Juneau Empire.

Time for a quarterly report. Three months ago I stepped off the Malaspina and into the Empire's newsroom and your sphere, not fully remembering what peculiar people line these ocean channels. Job No. 1 was to learn enough of the strengths and idiosyncrasies of the journalists here so we could plot an interesting, newsy and sometimes funny newspaper. Job No. 2 was to start learning what makes this place Juneau, so that our idea of news might match some of your ideas. Job No. 3 was to proofread. Job No. 4 or 5 was to write a weekly column to help boost the local content on the editorial page. I hope you pay more attention to the news and features pages than to what I write on this page.

We feel we've achieved some success. If you don't count letters from the friends and supporters of a political operative, we've gotten more compliments than complaints. That is rare in this business. As with anything else in life, people who like what they see fold their hands over their bellies and hum to themselves. It's the people we anger who usually talk back. In fact, the carapace that grows around a journalist's ego after just a few years makes most praise feel gooey, if not oily. But I can tell you that our publisher seems to like nice little notes of acknowledgment, and I believe it makes him like me and my colleagues.

Let's run down what I've learned about Juneau and what apparently matters here.

On my first day in town I stopped on a long wooden stairwell to enjoy a cigarette (filterless, merely air pollution) while conversing with a raven who seemed angry with me. A woman descending the stairs passed me and said, "He says you should quit smoking." Yeah? The raven and who else?

I think she meant it, and that sort of mysticism around here is one thing that I've struggled with since. It's not naturally in me. But that day I smiled and crushed my empty pack and said the raven was probably right. Again. The next day was my first at work, and I didn't hear a single word anyone said to me. No one made a sign that they noticed, but I do not recommend quitting on your first day at work. Sooner or later you need to stop shaking hands and perform, which means you're smoking by day three. But I've settled into the job enough to feel comfortable giving it another shot. I can spend a few days as a zombie if you really want to ban smoking in bars. I've been doing that every six-12 months for the last decade, anyway. Is a guy honestly supposed to play dice at certain establishments without a smoke, though?

One of the drawbacks in the transition from reporter to editor is that I spend most of my time in the office. It's a lovely view of Gastineau Channel, but not a very good one of Juneau. The result is that I have to calibrate not so much to what people are saying, but what they're writing in letters to the editor. It's an admittedly skewed perspective, but the volume of responses to some letters tells me that many readers share it.

My favorite letter to the editor during my time here came last week, from a writer asking everyone to loosen up about loose dogs. After all, she wrote, it's Alaska: People wear Xtratuf rubber boots to church here.

I know that letter bothered some people, and their rationale is understandable. But it resonated in me. Rubber boots and dogs. Ocean and mountains. Alaska. I saw a woman wearing Xtratufs and a miniskirt in a smoky bar. This made me feel at home, like I was having a beer while my gal did laundry.

Here are the things that I deduce are most important to the people of Southeast Alaska: fluoride, abortion, dogs and dog poop.

Because I am a member of our editorial board, I really should form opinions about these things. I'm an odd choice for this assignment, because I have opinions about few things outside of sports, books and music. But I'll give it a try.

Fluoride: Good.

Abortion: Uhhh. How to say this. Contrary to how some read last week's column, my only opinion for public consumption is that it's not funny and doesn't belong in a comic strip.

Dogs: Good.

Dog poop: Situational.

A couple of points about letters, while we're on the subject. Please read the letters policy, which frequently runs on this page. And read it again, because it will change soon. And, yes, we can and increasingly will pick and choose which letters to run. We will not exclude any letter based on its author's sane views, and in fact will seek a broad range of ideas, but broken records get thrown away.

Here are the assignments for next quarter. I gotta get out more. And if you'll write something new, so will we.



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