Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Q&A with Tim Grobaty

Tim Grobaty is the author of the new book I'm Dyin' Here: A Life in the Paper. A longtime columnist for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, he also has written the books Growing Up in Long Beach, Long Beach Chronicles, and Location Filming in Long Beach. He lives in Long Beach, California.

Q: How did you come up with your new book’s title, and what does it signify for you?

A: The title was the easiest part. I was sitting with publishers Wendy [Thomas Russell] and Jen [Volland] and they said, “We need a title.” I didn’t have one, but I said, “I’m Dyin’ Here.”

We laughed and then it suddenly made sense on a couple of levels: I’m dyin’ here because print is dying, and, because I’ve been at the paper for 40 years (in May), I’m apparently going to be carried out of the newspaper business feet-first.

Q: You describe your career over the years at the Press-Telegram. How has the paper changed, and what does that say about the journalism business overall?

A: The paper has undergone incredible change, from employing almost 700 people in a four-story building and serving more than 20 cities to a staff of about six reporters and one editor serving Long Beach and a couple of adjacent towns.

Journalism, as a trade, is doing OK, but print/newspaper is close to dead in all but a few cities in the U.S. (worldwide, it’s doing pretty good). It truly is a race between us, at 61, and the print version of the Press-Telegram, for which will be the first to go.

Q: How do you come up with ideas for your columns, and what are a couple of your favorite columns that you’ve written over the years?

A: I very rarely have an idea for a column when I come into the office in the morning. I fiddle around with colleagues and cruise the Internet and email and phone messages until I find something.

This week I wrote on Tuesday about local golf courses turning to FootGolf (you kick a soccer ball until you get it in the hole) to get more customers during slow times; on Wednesday I wrote about obfuscation by city officials through their Orwellian public statements; and on Thursday about my idea of running for city council using Trump tactics.

You learn to see things differently as a daily columnist; that is, with virtually every event, no matter how trivial, is looked at as “Can this be turned into a column?” It can, more often than not.

I’ve written more than 5,000 columns, but things still happen that I haven’t written about. There’s probably about 800 left, then I will have written about everything.

Q: What do you see looking ahead for print journalism?

A: You can see the end from here.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Promoting the book which, to me, is way more daunting than writing it, though this one, of the four books I’ve written, was a lot more difficult than the other three, and the one I’ve blown the most deadlines on.

Q: Anything else we should know?

A: I’m pretty proud to be with a Long Beach publishing house [Brown Paper Press]. My other books were published by the History Press in South Carolina. It’s great to have friends as editors and publishers, though they’re harder to argue with.

And it’s cool being part of the Long Beach literary scene, which is huge and I’d hate to start mentioning people because I’ll accidentally leave out the best, but it certainly includes my two publishers and my fellow Brown Paper Press author Alan Rifkin.

Right now I’m reading a great memoir, Nazis & Nudists, by a longtime Long Beach writer and Los Angeles Times reporter, David Haldane.

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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