I learned to love reading from the pages of the Arizona Daily Star.

Starting at about the age of 8 or 9, I would wake up and tiptoe out to my parents' gravel driveway to pick up that morning's paper. And then during breakfast, I would pore over the sports pages.

Sports meant something to me then - I was an absolute sports nut as a kid - and I couldn't wait to read the next bit of news about Wildcat basketball, Sean Elliott or UA football.

That's just how my days started. As a kid, my head was always buried in the Star.

Along the way, what I really fell in love with were the Star's sports writers. I read every Greg Hansen column.

Mr. Football. The truth, the whole truth, half-truths, shades of the truth. I read every word. And then I read them again.

On Sundays I would start with game stories on the cover, and then comb through Hansen's notebook. I would then work my way down the page to Jack Magruder's notes on Phoenix sports.

I learned to recognize names of writers like Jay Gonzales and Jon Wilner.

Their words reached me.

A few years later that love for sportswriting spread to the rest of the newspaper. The Star had woven its way into the fabric of my day.

When I started here as a general assignment reporter in 2006, the newsroom was packed with staffers I had grown up reading and following (and admiring). There was Tom Beal, Ignacio Ibarra, Joe Burchell (now my editor) and Enric Volante, among so many others. Dan Sorenson, who was just laid off Thursday, sat at the desk next to me and welcomed me to the newsroom.

That summer, photojournalist Greg Bryan chronicled the last days of Benny Petz, a 5-year-old dying of cancer. The photo series was intimate, raw and heartbreaking. But the real power of that series was that somehow in the tragedy of a boy dying, and a family grieving, Greg had captured the best of us.

Greg, too, was laid off Thursday.

Before I get too deep into Thursday and the cuts and the angst and the sadness, let me take a detour to the empty desks, which are reminders of not only past cuts but also the possibility of future ones.

Like every other newsroom in the country, the Star has accumulated a lot of empty desks in recent years.

These desks have gnawed at me. When I interviewed for a job at the San Diego Union-Tribune last fall, I was overwhelmed by the empty desks there.

And now I am overwhelmed by the empty desks here. The Star laid off 52 people on Thursday, cutting across the newsroom and into marketing, operations and advertising.

It was an awful day. I felt like throwing up.

The cuts filled the newsroom with an eerie stillness accented only by tears and typing. The next day's paper still had to be put out.

I think most staffers knew a day like Thursday would come, but that doesn't make it any easier. The combined readership of newspapers in print and online is at an all-time high. But partly because of the rotten economy, advertising sales are down.

What management has said is this: We don't have a readership problem, we have a revenue problem.

I don't know the details of the plan to make the Star healthier, but I know that Jill Torrance had four photos in Thursday's paper, and now she's gone.

I know that longtime Star employees Dave Eubank, Dave Skog and Fred Araiza are class acts - and left that way. I know that Angela Pittenger always found room for another last-minute photo request.

These are people who dedicated years of their professional lives to news and current events, which, say what you want about the Star, is really a beautiful commitment.

Like those sportswriters I loved reading as a kid, the work of the newsroom staffers laid off Thursday meant something to this paper and this community. They wove their way into the fabric of our story - Tucson's and the Star's - and they will be missed.

Contact columnist Josh Brodesky at 573-4242 or jbrodesky@azstarnet.com