The following are the remarks of journalist Michael Lacey following a private memorial service on Saturday for his friend and fellow newspaperman, James Anthony Larkin.
MICHAEL LACEY, AUGUST 5, 2023:
Jim Larkin’s passing has torn at my heart.
His suicide on July 31, 2023, is incomprehensible.
I knew him for over 40 years as we pursued stories across America, literally from sea to shining sea. And from the very beginning, the authorities have pursued us.
Jim began a newspaper in high school; journalism was, quite literally, in his blood.
He embraced the idea of full-time staff writers at Village Voice Media despite the expense. And those journalists went on to win over 3,800 writing awards including recognition in the Pulitzer competition.
Jim was a businessman, and he recognized, and created, a market for alternative newsweeklies. He cut trail where most perceived only risk.
Above all of his works, however, he was a family man. A loyal husband, he reveled in his six children.
I never saw my friend do a dishonest or dishonorable thing in his entire life. My writers and editors have reached out to express their sorrow over the only publisher they ever respected, Jim Larkin.
I had a four-decade friendship with a wonderful man.
Now I have only his memory.
And I remember this.
I got a handwritten letter in 1972, two years after I’d started this tiny, upstart anti-war publication that became New Times. On sheets from a yellow legal pad, someone had outlined the recent political history of Phoenix and Arizona.
The author, Jim Larkin, knew things I didn’t know about the Valley of the Sun. He knew things our staff did not know.
We met at my house. He observed, quietly, that I had just returned from giving blood to obtain funds. He resolved to hold onto his night waiter’s job at Nantucket Lobster Trap to support his family while working days at our alt-weekly, New Times.
Within a few short years, Larkin and I grew frustrated with the paper being governed by a collective in which decisions were made by a large group.
We both walked away.
Larkin and I camped out on a beach in Mexico and decided that after a couple of years absence, we wanted to return to our weekly.
Larkin embraced and pioneered the approach of free weeklies underwritten by advertising and sustained by in-depth reporting and exhaustive cultural coverage.
The publications included honest restaurant criticism abutted by extensive listings and would, eventually garner our critic in Los Angles the first Pulitzer awarded for dining reviews.
Jim took over before my return and was immediately confronted by the assassination of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles on June 2, 1976.
From the shock of this brutal murder, over 40 journalists from around the country descended upon Maricopa County to report on what sort of place thinks you can kill writers.
Investigative Reporters and Editors, led by Bob Greene, did 20-plus reports on the underbelly of the Valley of the Sun. The series on Arizona ran in papers across America.
The contents were so disturbing that The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette refused to print the series.
Jim Larkin decided he would print it, and with the assistance of editor Geoff O’Connell, the New Times published the entire series, cementing the paper’s reputation in the eyes of readers.
In 1983, Larkin initiated an expansion to other markets.
He began with Westword in Denver. (The economy immediately reeled from an energy recession.)
This expansion he initiated, which included identifying papers in markets and lining up the financing, was not an easy thing for publications considered, in the stuffy world of banking, as “underground.”
But Larkin himself was never underground . . . alternative, yes.
Here is the world my friend created:
Phoenix New Times, Westword (Denver), Miami New Times, Dallas Observer, Houston Press, SF Weekly, Los Angeles Reader, LA View, New Times LA, New Times Broward-Palm Beach, Cleveland Scene, Riverfront Times, The Pitch (Kansas City), Fort Worth Weekly, East Bay Express (greater Oakland/Berkeley) Nashville Scene, Village Voice, LA Weekly, OC Weekly (Orange County), City Pages (Minneapolis), Seattle Weekly.
After establishing stability in Colorado, Jim found a weekly shopper for sale in Miami. Our entire board of directors opposed the idea because the city was Latin and had a significant crime index.
Merely made Larkin curious.
We went on different flights in 1987 to Miami in an age before cell phones.
Although the Miami Herald was, at the time, a very good daily, the metropolis looked like low-hanging fruit to Larkin.
The city was a Carne Guisada of numerous cultural neighborhoods, each with a collection of Latin restaurants. Beaches, music, anti-Castro militants, and more news than a mere daily could cover.
An early writer complained to Larkin that his car radio had been stolen.
Without batting an eyelash, Larkin responded: What do you expect? Miami is a real city.
But I was in the car, cried the reporter.
Larkin set up shop next to Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest dive bar and one of the few showcases for rock n roll.
From the very beginning, every aspect of the business attracted hostile action by the authorities.
In 1971, an advertisement for a referral outfit in California that helped women secure abortion services triggered a legal action by the City of Tempe. Our lawyers prevailed due to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.
And once Larkin had six newspapers in the group, litigation over stories was a given. Larkin’s lawyers made a habit of winning.
In 2007, the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio arrested Larkin and myself over an article he and I both signed revealing the existence of a grand jury probe into Phoenix New Times.
Our story exposed that the lawman, amongst other things, sought the online identity of any reader who’d looked at any of our articles on Arpaio. And what was that online identity if not an enemies list?
Larkin and I were arrested at night and taken from our homes and deposited in the Sheriff’s jail on the very first night the story appeared.
We were freed within 24 hours and our lawyers sued.
After much legal wrangling, we were awarded nearly $4 million.
Larkin suggested that we donate the judgment to local Hispanic groups because the Sheriff had targeted and harassed Phoenix Hispanics, questioning their legal status. The lawman’s policies literally made it a threat to drive while Brown.
As a result of the Sheriff’s arrest, in 2008, the Arizona Civil Liberties Union awarded Larkin and myself the Civil Libertarians of the Year award at their annual dinner.
In 1995, Craigslist began, and the platform crippled newspaper income. Classified advertising, after all, is the primary revenue stream of print. The Newspaper Association of America reported that in 2000, classified revenue for papers was $19.6 billion; in 2012, it plunged to $4.6 billion, a staggering drop of 77%.
In response to Craigslist, Carl Ferrer, launched Backpage for Village Voice Media in 2004.
As reported upon our platform, Frontpage Confidential: “. . . Federal and state judges repeatedly upheld the classified listings site’s legality and right to publish adult-oriented ads posted by users of the website, based on Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech.”
Then in April 2018, the FBI, guns drawn, arrested us again at our homes.
In court, on September 14, 2021, the judge declared a mistrial over prosecutorial misconduct.
The current trial begins shortly.
But so much of this Orwellian drama seems unreal.
I remember my friend and colleague, Jim Larkin. He was not a man accustomed to saloons or dram shops.
But we both enjoyed the hospitality at artist Lon Megargee’s Hermosa Inn. The walls are spirited with his prints and paintings of Indians, and cowboys and dreams.
Megargee’s watering hole is a touch of what once was.
I will see Jim there after this wicked trial. He will have a glass of wine in his hand. And Molly will be with us under her stetson.