CITY LIFE

Published on July 8th, 2014 | by Daniel Rahe

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Callaghan – End Paragraph

You have probably heard by now that Peter Callaghan, perhaps Tacoma’s most notable remaining newspaper reporter and columnist, has left his post at the Tacoma News Tribune.

It is difficult to be a reporter. To present the verifiable truth in detail under the threat of impossible deadlines, a person must be persistent and able to write confidently without benefit of inspiration. And a reporter must work with the knowledge that nearly every damn reader believes they could do the job better.

Readers feel entitled to your labor when you are a reporter, and they hold you in the same suspicious scorn in which they hold teachers. When you are a reporter — especially a political reporter — you have few real friends in the general public and even fewer among the officials you write about. No one sympathizes with you. You are Other.

I spoke with Peter Callaghan a handful of times, and found him to be systematically curious, sharp, and averse to bullshit. He does not waste words, even in conversation. But he has a barely suppressed enthusiasm once an idea grabs him, which I did not expect to see in a man so familiar with the disgraces and failures of his subjects. Instead of being jaded, he is optimistically focused, giving voice to much-needed analytical hopefulness.

I have heard many people say that Callaghan’s departure is a great loss to the city of Tacoma, and his colleagues have published lovely tributes to his work. As a fellow writer and an amateur political wonk, I won’t quibble with them. Callaghan will leave a void, just as Lewis Kamb left a void, just as all the staff reductions at the News Tribune over the last decade have left a void. There are only so many newswriters in this little city, and a sick day, vacation, or double-booking can mean a story at City Hall may go unreported or be delayed until no longer relevant. It happens all the time. And it takes years to learn the backchannels of bureaucracy, to amass a catalog of connections that form the scaffolding of history, to know what is significant and what is not. When someone like Callaghan leaves, they take all of that knowledge and part of our collective story with them. Someone will spend decades trying to relearn everything he already knew.

I have read Callaghan’s articles and columns for years, and he was supportive of some of my work. Sometimes I disagreed with him, but most of the time, I considered him one of the most sane public commentators in Tacoma. Sanity is a valuable thing in a city where, too often, civic life inspires either giddy hallelujahs or the bitter conspiratorial ramblings of trolls. Callaghan kept a centered course as ably as any inherently biased person can, paying little heed to the kooky repetitive yawping that often occupied the media space. He is a consummate professional. Here, where we will shower mere competence with kisses and ticker-tape, Callaghan quietly created an extensive body of work that was of fine and consistent quality. Perhaps we took him — and his sanity — for granted.

Of course, all is not lost: we still have outstanding newswriters like Kathleen Cooper and Kate Martin. There will still be occasional incisive commentary in our mass publications, and Tacoma will remain as informed as it would like to be. Perhaps there will be an emergent new voice with just enough knowledge to be dangerous. But, in an industry often referred to as “dying,” Peter Callaghan’s resignation magnifies the relevance of our daily newspaper — because we simply have no reliable replacement for it or for him.

We wish him the best of luck in all his future endeavors.

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About the Author

Founder of Post Defiance, Dan is a father, surveyor, writer, and runner.



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