Columnist bows out

In a move akin to the San Francisco Chronicle dumping Herb Caen, the Reno Gazette-Journal has offered newspaperman Cory Farley a buyout, and he has accepted.

His departure is part of a corporate cost-cutting effort to send the newspaper most experienced employees (with the paper’s institutional memory in their heads) out the door—all 20-year employees were offered buyouts.

The newspaper had already moved Farley’s column to a less visible spot on the editorial page from the “living” section, causing some readers to think he had left the newspaper. At the same time, his word count was reduced.

Farley, who has won numerous awards, slowly developed a loyal following over three decades and provided readers with many memorable pieces on everything from the abilities of sales clerks to the experience of riding a bike to work (from Verdi) to his special grievance, poor drivers. He was quoted incessantly around the valley, with many workplaces on Monday morning hearing the sentence, “Did you see what Cory Farley said yesterday?”

Some readers seemed to like to read him in order to be outraged and then write to him or the editor to complain ("Cory Farley misinterprets what the Bible really has to say"). But he delighted others by throwing a spotlight on government’s dubious decisions (like turning over a block of Commercial Row to the Flamingo Hilton for new construction, which never materialized) and on the deteriorating values of journalism. ("It’s not our job, or Channel 8’s or KOH’s, to back the Pack or support the latest plan to resurrect downtown. It’s to report what’s happening, period.")

Farley is adept at pointing out the strangeness of things we do every day, such as parents buying packaged store cookies for their kids’ school bake sales. He is particularly good at analyzing or actually testing the economical use of truth by public relations professionals. He has a great turn of phrase, and he’s witty.

When the plastics industry started talking about “biodegradable” plastic bags (sort of a forerunner to “clean coal"), Farley and one of his children did an experiment, hanging grocery store plastic and paper bags on their clothesline and burying another set, then reporting back a few weeks later on the level of corrosion, a finding that did not match the industry claims.

When the Keystone Avenue interchange on Interstate 80 was rebuilt, Farley wrote that it was designed by someone who “had heard of interchanges but had never seen one.”

When religious folks started retooling creationism into “intelligent design” to try to slip it into schools, Farley recalled something he’d once overheard—"You mean you believe in a god powerful enough to create a universe, and this is the best he could do?”

He found some of the most interesting people to write about, like someone who deliberately possessed no records or identification (none, zilch) and how she got along in life.

He occasionally ventured into very serious stuff, like parents hitting their children. The results were often moving but always educational.

As news events from legislative sessions to Sept. 11 came and went, Farley’s observations remained one of the fixtures that framed dialogue in the valley. And over the course of his column writing career, Farley himself noticed a change in that dialogue.

“As recently as the 1970s, when I thought Jimmy Carter was a decent man doing the best anyone could do under the circumstances, I used to have lively political discussions with friends and when the discussions were over, we were still friends. That doesn’t seem to be the case today. In private, people get nasty, and in public debate … well, there is no public debate, only name-calling.”

Farley himself always expressed himself in congenial terms, and his announcement in a mass emailing of his departure from the Gazette Journal was the same way, starting with an apology: “Sorry to do this with a mass mailing, but the Gazette-Journal has offered me a buyout, and it looks like I’ll be leaving the paper sometime this month.”