Letters

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By now, many of you have heard that Weekly Planet is laying off its news staff. Three of the people you've come to know through their writing will soon be gone from these pages.

Trevor Aaronson's wry humor, nose for news, utter fearlessness and good old fashioned iconoclasm may one day lead him toward a reputation like the one enjoyed by the much vaunted, dearly departed and ever pugnacious John Sugg.

We sicced Trevor on the media beat, and he went after it like a bloodhound, revealing the strong-arm tactics of the St. Petersburg Times in trying to get rid of Alfred Whitted Municipal Airport and the slightly seamy underbelly of the glossy Tampa Bay Magazine, among others. He worked here for less than a year, but in that time, he made a big impression on readers.

You also won't be reading Rochelle Renford anymore. Her caustic, articulate and impassioned voice and keenly alternative viewpoint will be sorely missed. Whenever we kicked around story ideas, she was always the first to ask, "how is this an alternative story?" She's a true believer in the power and responsibility of the alternative press — even as it bows to the demands of the market and the voracious appetite of the corporate machine.

Perhaps more than any writer I have ever seen, she cares deeply about the things she writes about. Her stories about Sami Al-Arian and Jeb Bush generated more letters and spirited debate than almost anything we've published since I've been editing this paper.

Most local media people and politicians know or know of our departing News Editor Francis X. Gilpin. Even if they don't like him, they usually respect him. He's an old-style news guy who knows the ins and outs of government and all the players — a dogged reporter, stubbornly fair-minded and balanced in his approach to a story. He does not form an opinion until he has all the facts, and even then, he likes to let the readers decide, based on the facts, what to think about a story.

Fran's sense of integrity far surpasses his sense of self-preservation. He never shied away from stories that he knew would offend people in a position to do him harm. Whenever an ethics question arose, Fran was the one we turned to for advice. His strong sense of ethics and reporting skills are what made me beg him to be our news editor. He didn't really want to do it — his real love is investigative reporting — but he finally succumbed to my pressure.

Coaching young reporters and covering the news with a small staff take a lot of time. Still, Fran found the time to do prodigious amounts of research and bring us stories like the one about Florida Power's dirty tactics in keeping a small town under its thumb.

He also found the time to serve on the local board of the Society of Professional Journalists and put out special news sections. He was often at his desk when I left at night and again when I arrived in the morning, making me wonder if he had spent the night there, poring over records in search of the story.

There has been some protest about the layoffs from our readers — those who feel we have done a good job of presenting the other side of the news. ABC Liquors was so incensed that the retailer told our circulation director the stores would no longer carry our paper. We've been thrown out of distribution sites before — for our racy ads and content that offended someone in a position of power. But I believe this is the first time we've been ousted for an anticipated lack of content.

Things change. Power shifts. People move on. Businesses either become corporations or are devoured by them. Some people hate change, resist it with every fiber of their beings. But that doesn't stop it from happening.

Four years ago, I came to work for a lean and scrappy independent alternative paper. A small business run by people we saw every day. Now, I work for a corporation run by people who probably could not put a face to the names of the artists and journalists who have lost their jobs in the past year or so: Todd Bates, Chrissy Stevens, Stella Moore, Paul Pavlovich, Susan Dix, Melissa Caban, Andrea Brunais. And now Rochelle Renford, Trevor Aaronson and Francis Gilpin. They've all taken a piece of the soul of this paper with them.

The question is, can those of us who remain salvage what's left and move on. The answer is, we'll do our damndest.

Many alternative papers are run by distant corporations now. Artists, writers, sales people and support staff are literally numbers to them, payroll costs to be balanced against advertising income. It's a fact of life, and no amount of hand wringing will change it.

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