Tom Beal reflects on 43-year newspaper career in Tucson

Tom Beal reflects on 43-year newspaper career in Tucson

The internet gobbled up my first two newspaper jobs. I’m leaving this last one on my own terms.

I began my journalism career on July 16, 1974, at the Arizona Daily Star.

Less than a month later, President Nixon resigned rather than be impeached for trying to cover up crimes originally uncovered by reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post.

It was a good time to join the news business. Reporters were heroes. They made movies about them.

I basked in the reflected glory, far from the corridors of power, and not yet a reporter.

With a degree in English literature and no journalism training, I began my news career as a librarian.

I indexed stories, cut out multiple copies of each one and filed them away in manila envelopes, creating the paper’s archive — the clip files that reporters and editors used to research background and check facts.

There were seven of us doing that. Those jobs were replaced by computer algorithms in the 1990s.

My next job also fell prey to the Blob-like growth of the World Wide Web. I had asked for a job in the newsroom. They made me a copy boy.

I tended a bank of eight wire machines that spit out news from around the world in a clack-storm of typewriter keys striking inked ribbons that I changed daily. I pasted the takes and updates with rubber cement before delivering stacks of sorted copy to the national, state, sports and entertainment editors.

At deadline, I picked up copy from reporters banging away on manual typewriters and delivered it to the city desk, where editors, with pencils I had sharpened, revised copy and placed it in baskets for me to take to the copy desk.

There, copy editors worked the words over again and penciled on a headline before sending the stories to the back shop via pneumatic tubes that snaked across the ceiling of the open, noisy, smoke-filled room.

Copy boys (and girls) disappeared when the computers arrived. We said goodbye to pneumatic tubes, glue pots, typewriters, copy paper, the entire back shop and all its layout experts.

Long before then, by the end of 1975, I had become a reporter. Over the past 40 years, I have written or edited thousands of stories, columns, reviews and editorials as my roles changed.

In the ’70s, I covered government and politics.

I smoked cigars with Rep. Mo Udall on a bus tour of his district and barnstormed Southern Arizona in a plane piloted by 71-year-old Sen. Barry Goldwater during his final campaign in 1980. Each spoke with great affection for the other, even though they represented different parties and ideologies. I learned you can’t divide the world into heroes and villains.

I met two presidents (Reagan and Carter) and 10 Arizona governors.

After I moved to the Comment section, I wrote editorials calling for the resignation of two of those governors — Evan Mecham, who was impeached in 1988, and Fife Symington, who resigned in 1997 after a fraud conviction.

The column I wrote on the editorial page for 13 years — from Mecham to the Millennium — provided the most intimate contact with all of you, dear readers.

I still wrote mostly about governing and politics, but I also wrote about my life, my wife, my son, my granddaughter and my rooftop travails as I nursed an aging evaporative cooler back into service each summer.

Those were the columns people mentioned when they stopped me in the supermarket aisles to chat. As word of my retirement leaked out this month, several of my friends requested a final cooler column. Sorry, I don’t do ladders anymore and my house is now air-conditioned.

The Arizona Daily Star has been a great place to work. I spent my days talking to interesting people, learning their stories and writing about them. It never really seemed like a job.

So why am I leaving?

It’s time. I want to ditch the daily deadlines and measure my days by the sun and the season. I want to untether from the devices that are now an essential part of my work life, and from the social media platforms that expand my profession’s reach, even as they assault its economic health.

This is our final conversation. I mentally picture you on your patio in the only cool hour of this Sunday morning, sipping coffee, swapping sections with your spouse.

I’ll be doing the same — reading the work of the most talented and dedicated group of journalists the Arizona Daily Star has ever employed. I’m counting on them to preserve the critical role of local journalism as it moves to platforms and business models yet undreamed.

I hope the paper-and-ink version of the newspaper outlives me, but that’s really up to all of us.

Buy the paper. Read the paper. It’s real news, written by real people who have a commitment to accuracy and fairness — and a way with words.

Contact: or 573-4158. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter: @bealagram

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