MAR Attacks

The Flash has digested the first few issues of the fresh, new and improved, repurposed, redesigned, revised, glorified, fortified, sportified, mortified, metamorphed Millennial Arizona Republic. The MAR reminds me of something Pete Townshend said:

"Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

The lyric is uniquely apropos. After months of planning and retreats and analyses and consultations and reams of memos and mockups and mockdowns and focus groups and listening to the proletariat and listening to Prozac, Arizona's largest newspaper does indeed look different.

(Worse, actually.)

Yet the people who are calling the shots are no different.

So the torpor continues.

How disfortunate.

The buildup was titillating. There was much stone-passage, self-flagellation, lamentations of lameness, vows of reform, requests for proposals and urgent announcements culminating with Pam Johnson's front-page pimpage in those spectacular "To Our Readers" columns.

One would think that the Republic would actually unleash its reincarnation with a splash of pithy news. Some scandal, some investigative dervish, some enamel-peeling journalistic juggernaut.

Didn't happen.

What we got was sports-scribe-cum-chicken-soup-for-the-souler David Casstevens, who respects old people because -- sniffle -- he's had some deaths in the family. He also makes his in-laws fix broken stuff in his house.

And we got feature-creature-cum-sopa-de-pollo-para-el-almaer Ricardo Ruelas. Upon earning his new column assignment, Ricardo was instructed to take some time off, get in touch with his inner voice, have a walkabout. He apparently didn't stray far. What we learned, right off, is that Ricardo reads Harper's. Probably has a subscription.

But take heart. We do have Johnson's hilarious disclosure that the readers have demanded that the Republic actually cover some news. Johnson assures us that, by golly, it's right up there on the to-do list. Just you wait! A trainmaster is being sought. Committees are being named.

The MAR has larger type. It's "reader-friendly." It also means a significant reduction in the number of actual words that fit into the paper. Fewer words mean less information, which might explain why the Flash actually saw a three-inch-long, bylined story. The news hole will shrink even further this summer when the Republic reduces its page size and saves many, many millions of dollars on its newsprint bill. Will the savings be passed along to subscribers and advertisers? No. It will buy Chip Weil and John Oppedahl new golf clubs.

Columnists new and old have been downsized, to parody-sized, squint-inducing mug shots -- apt metaphors for their skills. Their crania are now cropped off, thereby cleverly concealing evidence that most of these people are pinheads.

But not folksy new Weather Page muse Clay Thompson, who actually possesses Keilloresque gifts. He has been changed into a boot. It's not even a scuffed, comfortable boot. It's a stiff, new boot. Probably one of those cross-trainer rigs from REI. Thompson's new assignment required him to climb Squaw Peak the other day. The Flash hopes he's chucked the Parliaments.

The Page One flag is apparently reviled by the redesigners, who squished it into inconsequence. Hey, another metaphor!

Section fronts look like interior pages. Story play appears to have lost all sense of hierarchy.

The whole paper has taken on the mien of USA Today, where managing editor Julia Wallace once officed. That's not progress. That's McDreadful. (In their infinite wisdom, the news whizzes at Tribune Newspapers got purloined copies of the redesigned Republic weeks ago and pre-empted their Phoenix foes with a startlingly similar redesign of their own. How visionary.)

The Republic's fusillade of breathless dispatches and updates and assurances of an impending revolution had actually caused the Flash to consider the possibility that a silk purse could be crafted out of a sow's ear.

Forget it.

These people can't do anything right.

We won't get fooled again.

A Scottsdale Christmas

On Christmas Eve, Heather Milke, 19, was standing in line at an upscale north Scottsdale grocery store, waiting to buy her family a Christmas turkey. She had just settled in for a long winter's nap, seeing as how she was holding number 47 and the counter clerks had only reached number seven or eight, when what to her wondering eyes should appear, but the middle-aged customer at the counter, who suddenly passed out and fell to the floor.

Someone ran to the front of the store to call 911. The customers surrounding the poor man stepped back to give him air. From behind there arose such a clatter as the more impatient among the crowd rushed in to order their Christmas platter (and barely budged when the paramedics arrived to take the poor fellow away).

A clerk called the next number, impervious to the emergency. And then a frou-frou frau in furs stepped over the inert body, and while straddling it, handed her ticket to the clerk. "She was just, like, 'I've been waiting here forever,'" Milke says, and she only stepped back when other store patrons let her know that, even in Scottsdale, such behavior was perceived as rude, or at least tacky.

Poor Heather Milke saw some Christmas turkeys that day, but she never bought one for her family.

Star Struck

Local pols around town are still scratching their heads, trying to figure out why Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza has endorsed presidential candidate John McCain. Over the years, McCain's been downright nasty to Skip, running candidates against him more than once -- including last year's race, where McCain and his minions backed Rimsza's opponent Randy Pullen. And Skip hasn't held John in such high regard over the years, either.

Only a privileged few know what was said at that closed-door meeting at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport last fall, but it was enough to lure Skip on board McCain's bus. As one of his first good deeds, Rimsza agreed to host a Mayors for McCain fund raiser at his not-so-humble north Phoenix abode. Estimates reach as high as 200 for attendees at the posh December 15 do, with a number of mayors present including the mayor of Winslow -- but no McCain.

Our snowy-haired senator was -- you guessed it! -- in New Hampshire, doing the grip 'n' grin with Bill Bradley and talking about campaign finance reform (as the dollars continued to pile in for both Bill and John).

Rimsza aide David Schwartz shrugs off the snub, saying Rimsza's office received a last-minute call from McCain's staff. "They said, 'This is probably one of the biggest media days for him.' We said, 'Okay.'"

In his place, McCain sent former movie star and current Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. Privately, guests told the Flash that they were much more excited to see Thompson than they would have been to see McCain.

Schwartz confirms: "It was a pretty cool event."

Feed the Flash: voice, 602-229-8486; fax, 602-340-8806; online,

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