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Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006 | Forty-odd years ago, certain things said about me by a classmate and a teacher at Robert E. Lee High School in San Antonio, Texas helped set the stage for my career in journalism.

We’ll start with the yearbook and school paper advisor/teacher, whom I often interrupted as she rambled on about famous newspaper reporters she knew.

She predicted I would never make a good reporter because I was “so rude.”

Sorry, Mrs. Abbott, but chutzpah came in handy during my career as a U.S. Navy journalist and later a reporter for the Evening Tribune (which became the

San Diego Tribune) that merged with The San Diego Union in 1992.

As of Dec. 15, I am a retired The San Diego Union-Tribune arts writer; one of several company employees who this month accepted an early retirement incentive package.

My U-T career began in 1970 as a copyboy (these days known as an “editorial

assistant”) and segued to general assignment reporter, which meant being equally ignorant about all subjects and willing to take on any assignment – such as murders, fires, car wrecks, press conferences, and people who collect match book covers – on a moment’s notice.

“It may have been rude to ask arts administrators how much they earned, or their age, but someone had to pry and probe.”

Some general assignment stories dealt with the arts. Tribune editors knew I had a passion for classical music, theater and art. In 1984, one editor mumbled to me during a crack-of-dawn phone call that he wanted to go to the Old Globe Theatre in the wake of a fire that destroyed the Globe’s outdoor stage. “You know those Globe types, so they’ll talk to you,” he said.

Types?

Over the years, I wrote arts stories, or did classical music reviews for the Tribune when the music critic was out of town or unavailable. When the Tribune and Union merged, I became the paper’s first full-time arts news writer, chronicling arts organizations’ hirings, firings, deficits, surpluses, government support, as well as projects, programming and trends. There are few feathers-ruffling exposes. Lucky for me polonium 210 wasn’t vogue at the time.

It may have been rude to ask arts administrators how much they earned, or their age, but someone had to pry and probe. (I often got the impression they would rather discuss their sex lives rather than disclose salary or age.) I reminded a few of the offended that a newspaper is the eyes and ears of the public, especially when it comes to nonprofit organizations that receive taxpayer dollars. I came to love IRS Form 990s, public documents that show how nonprofits raise and spend money.

Fast forward to another editor circa 1995, gruffly intoning to me, “People in the arts community are afraid of you. I don’t like that.”

I did.

In late 1997, I took a break from arts news to cover local TV and radio (and a goodly share of general TV programming) for approximately eight years. I now refer to that time as the dark years. It became darker as vapid, contrived reality shows swept the landscape. The only reality TV shows I’ve ever liked are Bowflex commercials. In any case, I occasionally made the lives of local TV and radio figures miserable.

After Welton Jones retired in 2001 as Union-Tribune critic-at-large and arts news writer (which he took over when I went to TV and radio), I juggled broadcasting and arts writing. The arts and I reunited full-time two years ago.

As for that high school classmate’s observation, anyone who knows me personally or professionally is certain to agree with Marcia Guthridge. “Preston, when you die, the world won’t be able to stand the silence,” she wrote in our graduation yearbook, sarcastically acknowledging my penchant for dishing and boisterously giving my opinion, especially when it wasn’t solicited.

I’m not dying, but mourning is unavoidable right now. Letting go of familiar surroundings and long time work-related relationships equals loss. I adhere to the notion that some co-workers are like relatives; you love them, warts and all (and vice versa, of course).

As for silence, not now, thank you, except maybe on the third floor newsroom of the Mission Valley Union-Tribune building. For me, the arts – particularly San Diego’s thriving community – will always be something to shout about. As many have said, “the arts are the signature of civilization.”

In these scary uncertain times, there’s much to be said for the civility, thought provocation and delight the arts bring to all of us, and for a big part of my Union-Tribune career brought me a sense of pride and purpose.

Preston Turegano can be contacted at pturegano@cox.net

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