Bob Dorn, who died of a heart attack the last week of November, was a writer for the Evening Tribune, the Reader, San Diego Magazine, and most recently for the San Diego Free Press.
He wrote about leaving daily journalism in a Sept. 27, 1979 Reader cover story, "The Last Rewrite," printed below.
Other notable Dorn stories that appeared in the Reader included profiles of Spreckels Theater owner Jaquie Littlefield, gadfly attorney Mike Aguirre, FedMart founder Sol Price, and San Diego Union cartoonist Steve Kelley. See all his stories here.
The Last Rewrite
San Diego Evening Tribune writer calls it quits.
While walking into the Union-Tribune building last month on my way to resign from my job as reporter for the Tribune, I had to slow down a step or two to allow a mechanic to drive a new staff car into its stall. It was an omen, and in times of stress and confusion, omens are no small comfort. You don’t quit after eight years at one place — acquiring friends, a mortgage, strong tastes for good food and drink, and a thin cushion of only a few thousand dollars in savings — without having to confront hard, evil doubts about the wisdom of the act, especially when there’s no other reporting job in your near or distant future. That new Union-Tribune Pinto didn’t push me over the edge, but it brought my decision a measure of certainty. Little more than a week before it’d arrived in the lot, I’d been enraged when a guard told me that advertising clerks were using cars assigned to the reporters’ pool when their own supply of cars had been exhausted, a fact that was significant to me because reporters had never been able to fall back on the use of advertising cars. I’d missed one interview and been late to others because of that policy during the numerous times my own car had been in the shop for repairs. So I’d written a letter to general manager Alex DeBakcsy, arguing that the priorities were reversed. After all, I said, the ultimate business of a newspaper is the gathering of news. DeBakcsy called a day and a half after I’d dropped the letter in his interoffice mail and said he was putting his next-in-command on the problem and that they’d “give it our best shot.” Taking my last step into the building a week after that call, what I saw was a new staff car, Nu-Prep sticker still in the left rear window, that was marked Advertisers’ Service.
There were other ironies on my last day. I’ve kept a page from Tribune editor Fred Kinne’s memo pad on which he scribbled the name Bob Carney and the words Sacramento Union. If I should want to continue in journalism, Kinne told me, I should consider working for this newspaper, which the Copley Press owned until the middle of the decade and which was subsequently sold by Copley to a man the South African government says bought it with South African government money, money that country shelled out in order to better plead its case before the American public. Kinne might as well have leaned across his desk and said he had one piece of advice for me: “Plastics.”
In the eight years I worked at the Evening Tribune, the most common public complaint I heard concerned the paper’s political bias. For years, both local Copley papers were edited and supervised by men like Lt. General V.H. “Brute” Krulak and Captain “Andy” Anderson, fussbudget retired Marine and Navy brass who were capable of issuing orders that stories on anti- war protests refer to the people in the streets as “hooligans,” not demonstrators. It was bias of that sort that prompted reporters to tell me things were better now than in the old days, before I joined. But questionable judgments continue today. Alone among the print media of this city, the Tribune declined to mention that Si Casady would enter the mayoral race against Pete Wilson until Casady made the standard declaration weeks after it was well known he was running. Then, weeks into the open campaigning, the Tribune produced a profile of Pete Wilson written by two reporters who had intended to do a mildly critical article on his Saturday-morning meetings with selected councilmembers. What appeared instead was a story accompanied by a large photo of the boyish mayor that left readers with the impression that all Wilson was doing was spending long hours at his job. This kind of journalistic marshmallow is standard fare from all San Diego papers, and it likely would raise no eyebrows in off-election years, but the
Tribune published it in the middle of the campaign. When Dick Tullar, the Union-Tribune’s advertising director wrote a letter to the editor that argued falsely there was no evidence that the Navy’s proposed new hospital in Florida Canyon poses a threat to the environment or Balboa Park, the Tribune ran the letter and followed it with a note that Tullar is chairman of the chamber of commerce’s military affairs committee. There was no mention of his company position. Of course, any Democratic, renting, mildly antimilitary, antigrowth...oh well, a lot of people...can recite their own lists of partisan wrongs.
However, it is inaccurate to conclude, and certainly foolish to assume, that the Tribune’s politics are ordained in the La Jolla headquarters of Copley Press and interpreted by men like DeBakcsy and Tullar, or even that they are handed down directly from the fifth-floor administrative suite in Mission Valley, where Helen Copley’s and the late Jim Copley’s names shimmer in brass welcome. Life and the Evening Tribune are not so simple as that. For one thing, as nearly as I could determine while I was there, Mrs. Copley is seldom at the newspaper, and if there ever had been a monolith of political attitudes, the Union has gone a long way toward bringing it down, with recent specials on boodling Jaycees, official violence in the jail, private-industry lien-sharks, and especially, Alex Drehsler’s excellent reporting from Nicaragua that was clearly sympathetic to the Sandinistas and in an area of the world where the Somozas and Pinochets have historically been Copley favorites. So some realities previously untouched by Copley newspapers are now being reported. But not nearly so many of them are being reported in the Tribune as in the Union. (It used to be the other way around.) When C. Arnholt Smith fell under federal indictment and lost his U.S. National Bank, the Union ran the story on its second-section page under a headline that merely said the bank was being sold. The Tribune ran a more candid story on its front page, where the nation’s record-breaking bank failure belonged.