The call from Transcript-Bulletin Editor Dave Bern came at about 10 a.m. last Tuesday.
I had texted a reporter there if she’d gotten more quotes to include in a story that would run that night in the Transcript about the Tooele County Citizens for Clean Air Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TCC4CleanAir). I had started it on Feb. 22 as a voice for Tooele County citizens who are concerned about Stericycle’s proposed relocation to Tooele County.
She said, “A few,” then added, “I think Dave wants to talk to you.”
Tuesday is a production morning for the newspaper. If he wanted to talk to me, it meant it was urgent. “They’ll probably fire me,” I joked to my husband. “I’m too much trouble.”
“I haven’t fired you yet,” my husband joked back.
When Bern called, he said, “I bet you’re wondering why I’m calling on a production morning.”
“It must be really important,” I said, chuckling.
Soon our tone turned sober. There was a lot more to our conversation, but the gist was this: As a freelance correspondent for the Transcript — an op-ed every other week, a Hometown every six weeks — I couldn’t be the founder of a citizen’s advocacy group and still be a freelancer for the paper. He explained the combination could represent a journalistic conflict of interest to readers.
It was a tough call, I knew, for Bern to make. I’ve worked with him for several years now. He’s not only an editor but a respected colleague. We’ve collaborated a lot on tricky pieces and no doubt he has saved my hide with his wisdom. Ultimately, we both decided that it was best for me to take a leave of absence while the Stericycle issue continues.
As we spoke, I cried. When you feel like you’re doing the right thing as a citizen, it’s tough to see a writing gig you’ve worked so hard on over the years to be pulled from under you — even though I can’t in all honesty say that it’s surprising.
I cried on my husband’s shoulder some more after I hung up. As I write this, I’m crying again.
Even though it’s a temporary leave of absence, it feels like a crossroads. I never meant for my Facebook page to be a catalyst in my journalistic career, but I suppose as an opinion columnist, I’ve always been susceptible to that occupational hazard. When I have to search my heart every other week about issues that matter to me, my family and my neighbors, I’m always discovering new things about myself and my values.
Every word, every story I have shared, has been personal and oftentimes searingly honest — to the point that I’d worry myself sick over it. But anything I wrote had to come from the heart, or it was pointless in my opinion to write an op-ed.
As heartbreaking as it is to step away from my column, I suppose I can consider my leave of absence as my final op-ed. I truly believe that Tooele County citizens need a voice if we are to preserve this beautiful place we love.
Some may make the judgment that the Facebook page has an agenda, to stop Stericycle. I will admit that as things stand now, that is my bias. I feel that the burden of proof must be put at the feet of Stericycle and our leaders to convince the rest of us that the relocation of a controversial business — unwanted by another county — is a good thing for ours.
But I will also have to say that my primary goal has always been to make sure that our community is informed and has a voice, that our elected leaders don’t just assume our silence for acquiescence.
If I had known that starting a Facebook page on this issue would cause me to step down, even temporarily, from my freelance work at the Transcript, would I still have done it? I would have to say “yes.”
The saddest thing for me is that I will no longer have a platform to speak out for or against things that could impact our community. But as a citizen, you and I don’t have to have a column to speak out. We can stand up for what’s right every single day of our lives, in our own small way.
I hold no hard feelings against the Transcript. I’ve appreciated the opportunities they’ve given me over the years and hold them in high respect for the service they do in the community.
To my readers and neighbors, thank you for all of your support. I’ve appreciated every thank you, every comment, every news tip, more than you know.