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A Reporter Says Farewell

| News | July 2, 2020

My first clue that the Gazette was dying was eight weeks ago, when Publisher Doug Sutton secured a Paycheck Protection Program loan but warned me that if ad revenue didn’t return to pre-virus levels, he would shut down. My second clue was two weeks ago, when returning editor Sarah Farnell told me she was back “until the Gazette goes under.”

It became official last week when Sutton told me. Immediately, the sadness enveloped me. I knew newspapers were dying; this was the first time I had personally lost a job.

Two reasons I went into journalism in the first place was to hold those in authority accountable and tell the stories that needed to be told, stories that not only held people accountable but helped inform and enlighten the public and lift up the little guy.

In my four and a half years, I feel like I accomplished that. I questioned where the Latino Chamber of Commerce monies went and what was Bill Miranda’s role in all that. I followed the always-delayed Whittaker-Bermite cleanup and wondered if it would ever be complete. I watched the city find a way to cite the Canyon View Estates owner for those unsightly solar panels, but I also took it to task over how it selects a mayor. I questioned the motives behind the Lyons-Dockweiler extension and who might profit from it. I covered the various California Voting Rights Act lawsuits against the city and some school districts. I highlighted the opposition to school bond measures CK and US that ultimately failed. I raised questions (since answered) about Assembly candidate Suzette Valladares’ residency, but I never found out why she didn’t pay some staffers. I wrote about the teachers who sued the William S. Hart Union High School District and won. I spotlighted some of the alleged dysfunction going on at College of the Canyons, resulting in several lawsuits against it. And I looked into the possible mistreatment of cats at the Castaic animal shelter.

I told numerous stories about just about every single city council candidate, and many school board candidates, too. I covered the House races, the rise and fall of Katie Hill, the various candidates who lived outside the district and the rise of Mike Garcia. I followed the city council appointment process and the march toward district elections, whether that’s in November or 2022. And I put the reader in Las Vegas and, to a much lesser extent, Saugus when those terrible shootings occurred.

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I met some strange and wonderful people: the guy who had no credit rating, the guy who worked at one of Donald Trump’s golf courses, the guy who got banned from Facebook, the pot farmer and the Satanist who ran for Congress, the guy who runs a local cornhole league, the guys who do underwater hockey, the family that fought with the county over a permit to sell alcohol at their store, the guy who announced high school baseball games, and the guy who opened his restaurant before the county allowed it – and had to close it almost immediately.

I feel frustrated and terrible that I have to stop reporting now because there are unfinished stories still to be told. What will become of Chris and Krissy Ball in their desire for justice against the bookkeeper who stole $1.5 million from them? Will Whittaker-Bermite ever be clean, and once it is, what will the city do with the land? Will Scott Rafferty sue the city or seek to nullify the November city council election if it’s at-large? Who will fill Bob Kellar’s seat? What will the city districts look like? Will the College of the Canyons faculty union succeed in flipping the board, and will that lead to Chancellor Dianne Van Hook’s retirement, as some hope? Will COC complete the required repairs and upgrades that are required for it to comply with the Americans with Disability Act?

There remains a glimmer of hope that the Gazette will return in September, so maybe I will still be able to cover these to their conclusions. But assuming this is the end, I have many people to thank and not enough room to thank all of them.

First, I want to thank the people who were there for me with their story ideas, comments or just plain conversation: Steve Petzold, Alan Ferdman, Joe Messina, Bill Reynolds, Stacy Fortner, David Barlavi, Richard Michael, Stephen Daniels, Allan Cameron, Bruce Fortine and Gloria Mercado-Fortine.

I want to thank the city councilmembers for their accessibility. While each granted varying degrees – Kellar and Cameron Smyth were the most accessible, Laurene Weste the least and was the only to hang up on me, and several times at that – I never wrote a council-related story in which none of the five were available.

I want to thank Donna Frayer, who courageously came forward seven years after the fact to detail how she was subjected to harassment, intimidation and retribution for calling out Vice President of Business Services Sharlene Coleal and Van Hook on their behaviors. It led to others coming forward: Gary Sornborger, Lee Hilliard and Laura Anderson, whose suit is ongoing. Also a thank you to Wendy Brill-Wynkoop, Martha Torgow and Marlene Demirjian for their support and help in bringing these stories to light.

Most of all, I want to thank my boss for letting me be a newspaper journalist again. When I left the Daily News on July 15, 2002, I never thought I would get the chance again. I wrote 478 stories for the Gazette; never once did Doug make me write something to fit his political leanings. Many times, he would suggest a story, I would investigate it, find the real story was opposite what Doug thought it would be, and he would run it as I wrote it. He let me practice my news judgment, even if that meant his conservative leanings took a beating, because he recognized the story’s value and the value of informing the public about it.

I had nothing to do with “Doug’s Rant.” I was not a tool of Doug Sutton or anyone else. In fact, for many years, nobody knew my political leanings, and they couldn’t tell from my writings (although I often reminded people that I don’t live in the area and had no vested interest in who won any election).

This wasn’t the first time I covered Santa Clarita. I worked at the Signal from 1990-95 and then in the Daily News Santa Clarita bureau from 1995-99. With any luck, I will resume in September.

And so, I close by paraphrasing one of my favorites, Bruce Springsteen: Maybe you’ll be out on the road somewhere, in some motel room, there’ll be a newspaper laying there, and you’ll read it, see my byline. If you do, please know I’m thinking of you and all the miles in between. I’m just writing one last time not to change anything but just to say I miss you.

Good luck. Goodbye.

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About Lee Barnathan

Lee Barnathan has been a writer and editor since 1990. His articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and online. His new book "If You Experience Death, Please Call and Other Fatal Mistakes We Make With Language," a humorous look at the ways people misuse English, is available on Amazon or at his website, www.leebarnathan.com. He is hired by people all over the country to help them refine the message or story they wish to share with their target audience or demographic.

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