“It’s been the ride of a lifetime” –Steve Ayers
The esteemed Tom Jefferson himself might feel a modicum of gratitude were he to return today to observe the collapse of print newspapers across America, indeed around the world. As he wrote in the 1800s, “I do not take a single newspaper, or read one a month and I feel myself infinitely happier for it.”
Undeniably happy he would be to learn that fewer and fewer newspapers now land with a whack on driveways from Maine to Washington, and those that do overflow with news about the thousands of reporters and editors sent into the streets by tight-fisted, insatiable publishers seeking ad revenue. Left behind are countless undiscovered details of scandals never to be exposed. Personally, I did not return to D.C. for the recent murder in print of my onetime employer, Newsweek Magazine. Why? I don’t enjoy dancing around the grave of a once powerful institution that frequently broke stories on Watergate, Civil Rights, poverty, energy and the environment and Viet Nam, where reporters got raises instead of pink slips, and tweeting and texting and no source reporting were not even on the horizon.
Is this the future? Today we hear about Madrid where banks have taken over newspapers, firing editorial staff, and bankers writing stories about themselves, not in the public interest. News, often twisted and wrong, now appears on Facebook and in various New Age outlets. Thankfully the Verde Valley is not Spain or D.C. or Los Angeles. Real reporters still work here, separating the wheat from the chaff, instead of being fat and sassy talking heads on obscure cable channels-and sweeting the day long.
Leading the list is Steve Ayers, 57, who reported for years at the Camp Verde Bugle—and has moved on. If he were to have a motto it is one that brings back memories of the good old days of journalism: sunlight is the best disinfectant. States Supervisor Chip Davis, “Steve was the best reporter to work in the Verde Valley—ever.”
In Greek myth Procrustes lived by the side of the road and invited passersby into his house and tailored them to fit, no one escaped unscathed whether they were too tall or too short. In the same vein, no one with an interesting tale to tell escaped Steve’s hungry notebook. “There was always room for one more story,” this journeyman said one night in the restored remains of Sedona’s legendary watering hole, The Wrenwood Café. To be sure, reviewing the breadth of his copy strains credulity—ancient volcanoes, politicians, otters, cats, dogs, geography, cartography, beavers, a wild game butcher who never takes Christmas off, too busy carving up hunter’s kills, the looming rape of the Big Chino aquifer, the only Apache warrior who put a price on his own head—and so on runs the kaleidoscopic list. Said he one night while sipping an adult beverage, he mentioned some of the many awards he’s won for his work. “I am obsessed about so many things there is never room in the course of daily news routine to cover them…so I go home at night and write some more. Two years ago i won award for sports writing, even though I am not a sportswriter.” Highlights include his reporting which halted supervisor Springer’s plans to have a $100 million dollars in government buildings built; the story of a man who owns a pet crematorium and the search for invasive turtles at Montezuma Well. Sums up John Parsons, raconteur naturalist, Verde River guardian, weather psychic, “Steve’s eclectic mix of stories are exciting, and enlightening entertaining. His old school dedication to digging and delving goes far beyond today’s banal hit and run style of sound bite journalism.”
Many readers will miss his work now that he has joined the local government, no one more than one of this paper’s readers, J and S Mattox who wrote, “His writing style was unique in that one would expect to find the likes in some major metropolitan newspaper.” How ironic in that good writing is disappearing from major papers, too.
This reader of his works will remember his efforts finding old ledgers and seeing what life was about for the pioneers, whether Coronado’s armies did come up the Verde, and whether the Kit Carson was a cook on the first beaver raids in the 1820s. For me he was like the hunter in that memorable film “The Last of the Dog Men,” who was taken in by Indian wise men, and trusted with secrets the rest of us will never know. All we do now is sit back and wait for a book some day on what it is like to live a normal life with his lovely wife.