BY ROBIN BARKER
Everyone remembers the beginning of The News from a different perspective. For Chuck, it was sitting in a bar with Eddie planning, scheming and dreaming. For me, it was the kitchen table. Whenever Eddie had something important to discuss, he would call me to the table and lay it all out. A meticulous planner, he always came equipped with maps, charts, time tables, drawings or whatever it took to make his point. After producing mock ups, financial charts, employee possibilities, and a plethora of schedules, he calmly squared his shoulders and, with great restraint, announced, “Chuck and I are talking about starting a weekly newspaper. What do you think?”
Before I could formulate an answer, he launched into the rationale for the jump into uncharted waters. “Yes,” he acknowledged what he knew would be my first objection, “it would be costly. And it might take years to break even, but the current paper doesn’t care about this community.”
He then spread out the pages of the local chronicle with obvious disdain. “Look,” he growled, “no high school sports, no local events and only news that makes the city government look bad. It’s more about Mesa and the east valley than it is about Apache Junction.”
He pushed the paper aside and announced with absolute certainty, “We can do better.”
Eddie never cared much about money or fame, and after he carefully went through each step of the proposal, his enthusiasm became contagious. After all, Chuck and Eddie were destined to join forces … both were Charles Edward, one Baker the other Barker … so, Chuck and Patti, myself and Eddie went into the newspaper business.
Eddie knew the business inside and out from a lifetime of experience with multiple papers: from advertising and layout, running the presses, to reporting and planning. Chuck was a genius with sports and knew all the coaches; Patti was a business and finance guru, and I was an English/journalism teacher who also knew my way around city, county and state politics (due to Eddie’s encouragement early in our lives together), perfect qualifications, they all said, to be the political writer and to help edit.
Eddie honed his skills as an interviewer and a student of human nature as a psychologist, reporter, umpire and son of the South fighting for Civil Rights. One of his grandfathers was a cop, the other a trapper. That background of mixed philosophies had commonalities in a love of music, history and words.
He learned about politics at his grandfathers’ feet, one conservative and one liberal. He learned about economic inequality when he found out the folks on the other side of Knoxville lived in big houses and got more than one thing for Christmas and about racial inequality going to segregated schools during the day and playing with the black neighbor kids at night and on weekends. He learned about gender bias and bullies when he counseled victims of domestic violence. He was well suited to write about all of it.
The plan was to counter the current dubious and one-sided coverage (from an out-of-town corporation) by featuring the accomplishments of the community and its residents as well as covering the crime, scandal, etc. In other words, balanced, objective news: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Eddie believed that if he gave readers the unbiased facts, they were intelligent enough to reach their own conclusion. “Opinions,” he always said, “ have no place on the front page, only on the editorial pages.” And he decided at the get-go, “If people don’t have the courage and conviction to put their name to their opinion, we won’t print them.” He practiced what he preached; he was never shy about putting his name on his opinion
He and Chuck also strongly believe that in order to be a “hometown” paper, the employees should be part of the community and that both the paper and all of us should do our business, if possible, in the community. They were probably the first advocates of “Shop Local.” Therefore, most of the early staff lived here, shopped here, sent their kids to school here and voted here … we were, and still are, truly a hometown newspaper.
Plans in place, we got down to the business of producing our first issue. We decided to defy common opinion and launch ourselves in the middle of the summer when everyone believed a business couldn’t survive. We had great faith in the year-round residents.
We all spent many days and nights in the “office,” sometimes sleeping on the floor and always consuming tons of pizza. Eddie and Chuck rounded up advertisers and designed the ads; Patti worked on the plethora of legal matters and budgeting necessary to operate a business, and I answered phones, typed copy, and fact-checked endlessly.
At that time, the paper was laid out by hand. Using a light table, each ad, each column and each picture was placed and pasted onto a heavy sheet of paper which was then hung with clothes pins on a line stretching the entire length of the room. It took an incredible amount of planning, precision, patience and time.
Then came the editing. Each and every line had to be scrutinized for factual, grammar and spelling errors as well as checking for missing words (a common error). Every jump line (i.e. “see page 3”) had to be followed to ensure continuity, and every ad had to be perfect. We all took a turn and when errors were found, it was back to the keyboard, light table and line. Despite all of that, we all missed the misspelling on the biggest headline on the front page of the first edition!
Fortunately, we were able to stop the presses and correct it.
After the editing was completed and all was as it should be, the sheets of copy had to be delivered to the printing company—usually in the dead of night—and then picked up early the next morning for distribution. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
During our first year, we hired many employees. Most didn’t stay too long (slave wages will do that), but one is still with us today. Trisha Beltran was a young mom when we hired her to do graphics. She didn’t have much experience, but she worked hard and has since become one of the best graphic artists around.
However, her start was kind of rocky. Trish had a habit of coloring when she completed her work. She would sit at a table next to the completed pages with her box of crayons and coloring books. Eddie was appalled! He came to me one day, consternation written all over his face, and whispered, “She’s coloring! She’s in there coloring in a kid’s coloring book.”
I peaked around the corner and saw that he was, as usual, absolutely correct. “Did she finish the work?” I inquired.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Is it the way you want it?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he replied glancing nervously back at the room.
“Well, leave her alone then,” I counseled.
He looked at me in total disbelief, nodded sheepishly, turned around, and left. Trisha still colors to this day, and Eddie just ignored it from that point onward.
It took a long time to convince Chuck that cheer leading and girls basketball and softball were, in fact, sports, but when he decided there was some truth to that, he covered all of them with the same passion and dedication he put into football, baseball and basketball. For the 18 years he was our partner, Chuck gave everything he had to raising the community’s awareness of the youth sports programs from Parks and recreation to the schools, as well as adult sports like golf and fishing. He also wrote a great opinion column.
Eddie was never bashful about his opinion, and, as the years went by, he became very outspoken on both local and national politics. He made friends and enemies alike. His editorials were always thoroughly researched and vetted, and his readers waited with baited breath to see what he had to say each week. It didn’t seem to matter whether they agreed or disagreed; they read it faithfully. Then, the naysayers wrote scathing letters while those who agreed simply shook their heads and smiled.
I recused myself from the paper when I was elected to the city council in 2007, in order to forestall the perception of a conflict of interest. Since Patti and Chuck moved Prescott, I have taken over the payroll and taxes chore … not my forte, I’m an English major! However, with Patti’s assistance, I am able to navigate the sea of numbers.
So many changes in the last few years have given us all pause. Eddie (and Chuck) prepared us well. Though we didn’t know Eddie would be leaving so soon, he made sure the paper could run without him. He trained our daughter in all things newspaper and office management. We will miss him, and we will never be able to replace his cheerful smile, kind, encouraging words, giving nature or his, sometimes, stubborn, opinionated character. He left us a staff with more than 80 collective years in the newspaper business, a new design and website, good friends, loyal advertisers and a determination to do him and our community proud, to continue to be the hometown paper he dreamed of 20 years ago.