Elephant Diaries: The Thing That Finally Made Me Cry

It’s been a hard week. Colleagues who did good journalism around me losing their jobs, and the business I love coming unglued.

We call it “the daily miracle,” somewhat sarcastically, because you see the chaos that sometimes sets in, around 6 in the evening, the false starts and confused discussions, the arguments over what are the good decisions and what are the bad ones, the frenzy of a hundred people trying to make sense of the day. And then, at dawn the next day, I pad out to the driveway, and there it is, wrapped in a plastic bag or girdled with that rubber band, all those people ready to engage in a conversation with me about what they learned.



For more mornings that can be counted over the last nearly two decades that I’ve lived in Albuquerque, the conversation began with Belshaw. It’s been an odd sort of three-part conversation, because Jim and I are good friends, so the conversation sometimes happens over lunch, or the phone, or the endless emails that Jim shoots out beginning at 5 am as he’s cruising the Internet.

Today, the paper published Jim’s last conversation with Journal readers. Because my other conversations with him will continue (there was a 5 am email from Jim today, an interesting New York Times story about Ubuntu – Jim has voraciously eclectic tastes, and knows his audience well), my sadness is mitigated. I get my own personalized Belshaw.

But Jim embodied the conversation.

When I first came to the Albuquerque Journal, as a young journalistic pup imagining my future, I fantasized that I would one day have Jim’s job. It took me a long time spent trying to master my craft to realize that I could not do that job – that while I have the journalist’s conceit that I have something to offer, the personal conversation of Jim’s thrown on my driveway flows from a special gift (or, more accurately, a well-honed skill – nothing like that comes easy) that I do not have.

But I do hope that I can find a way to write usefully about swamp coolers. That is still my dream.


  1. I read his column late last night, and felt both quite a bit older and more than a little bit scared about it all. The Internet isn’t ready to take this job over, and it’s just being left there, like some Styrofoam that isn’t fit for recycling and is too big to fit in the trash bin.

    Their is a power to a multiplicity of voices, but there is also the very real power of a single voice who can be trusted, understood and “conversed with” over the years.

    Or there was.

    Hang in there, John.

  2. Any chance of a Belshaw blog? His column was one of the main reason I read the Journal. Maybe he could all have a personalized Belshaw?

  3. Jim’s departure will leave a huge hole in the Journal. I always loved reading his column whether or not I agreed with him (I usually did) – it was a touch of humanity amid all the news of the day.

  4. My personal conversation with Belshaw began during my tenure at the New Mexico Daily Lobo about seven years ago. I ran into Jim one day on campus and, being a fan, called him “Mr. Belshaw” before asking for career advice.

    “Call me Jim,” he said. ” ‘Mr. Belshaw’ is far too formal. And besides, we’re just a couple of crusty old newspaper hacks.”

    I will miss his columns, his wit, his sense of humor, his quasi-socialist leanings (but not really) and the simple fact that I knew I could always count on him as the Official Downtown Bureau Curmudgeon. (Sorry, Mr. Gallagher, but Jim’s status was solidified one day about six or seven months ago when an indignant Belshaw — who had clearly been tap, tap, tapping his foot in anticipation of my arrival Downtown — emerged from his office in what can only be described as a flash. He was, for a man with a “92-year-old back,” a miracle of agility. “Mr. Proctor,” he said, his excitement palpable, “you, sir, had the quote of the day, no, make that the quote of the month, in this morning’s newspaper. Let me get this straight, make sure I’m not missing anything and that I fully understand the context … Did the spokesperson for the United States Postal Service REALLY tell you that the document you requested was, indeed, a matter of public record, but it was her policy NOT to give it to you?” I replied in the affirmative, then read with much pleasure Jim’s ensuing column enlightening us all on his distaste for “quasi-governmental entities.”)

    Beware, all … With Belshaw gone, GWME. (For those who don’t recall, that’s acronym-ese for “Gusty Winds May Exist.”)

    I’ll miss you, friend.

  5. Not Belshaw! Enough to make every elephant cry.
    New media punditeers had it figured that uniquely local papers like the Journal just might miss the Web tsunami/ad black hole that’s obliterating larger papers like the LA Times. What rotten luck.

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