Column: Salt-free Grunion: Harry Saltzgaver departs as Gazette’s executive editor
Harry Saltzgaver, who has been the executive editor of the 47-year-old weekly Grunion Gazette for 31 years, announced Thursday that he is hanging up that particular hat—he’s had many over the years, some of which, if you’re a critic of editorial fashion, have clashed with one another—ending a long career in community journalism.
Saltzgaver’s new job will be handling content that one can only assume will not consist of the wry, curmudgeonly humor for which Saltzgaver is known, nor can one imagine that it will be hard-hitting investigative reporting for his new bosses at Sunstone Management, Inc., a venture capital firm run by former Long Beach Economic Development Director John Keisler.
At any rate, it’ll be a different life, and the end of the old one, so, I wasn’t really lying when I told Saltzgaver that I was ordered to talk to him about his obituary. He did laugh when I told him that, which is a rare thing, because Saltzgaver is also fairly famous for his sort of stern and gruff demeanor. Nobody’s ever called him “Smiley” except maybe in a totally ironic way. Not that he’s done much to give up that stern impression. I wondered if that’s something he’s cultivated for himself. Does he fancy himself a curmudgeon, say, in the mode of the great writer H.L. Mencken?
“I prefer to think of myself as optimistically cynical,” he replied.
That’s the pose he’s taken on during his decades of column-writing in “A Pinch of Salt” and his “happy Monday” video rants and other means of airing his opinions, only a few of which have caused him some problems with a readership that doesn’t always catch satire.
There was also some pushback, particularly among some of us with lofty opinions regarding ethics in journalism, with his being a board member of the Parks and Recreation Commission (2000-2012) and the Water Commission (2012-2020).
“I think I handled those jobs well and fairly while being an editor,” Saltzgaver says. “It’s been an issue since I began. My former bosses, John and Fran Blowitz, supported me, but later my bosses and I mutually agreed that I stop. Still, I finished eight years on the commissions and I think I did a good job.”
Saltzgaver said that his favorite part of running the Gazette was “my interaction with the community and the ability to tell their stories.”
Many of those stories turned up in his collection of columns in the book “20 Years of Salt (In a 10-Pound Bag),” and his ode to former Mayor Beverly O’Neill, “Passionately Positive.” And he is considering another book, a sort of retrospective on his career. “I haven’t started it, but I probably will,” he says.
Although he wouldn’t comment on it, Saltzgaver couldn’t have enjoyed being farmed out to his old enemy, the Press-Telegram, following the Gazette and P-T being swallowed whole by Alden Global Capital, the infamous hedge fund that took over Southern California News Group. Due largely to staff reductions, the Gazette was forced to share its stories with the P-T as well as printing pieces written by P-T reporters.
Despite this, Saltzgaver still ran the Gazette, doing everything from writing to designing the publication.
Saltzgaver made many friends in the community, including city officials, during his career in Long Beach, even becoming, eventually, close friends with Rich Archbold, the Press-Telegram’s former executive editor and now columnist and editor-at-large.
“We were friendly as rivals for decades,” says Saltzgaver, “then we became friendly as friends.”
Like Archbold, Saltzgaver says he’s old-school. “I’m a fan of print, but I’m not overly optimistic about its future.”
He says Keisler approached him regarding the job at Sunstone, which he says is “handling editorial content” for the company. He hopes to retain the title of managing editor there.
“I have a feeling I’ll be pretty busy,” he says, though he also says he’s going to continue to write his Pinch of Salt column for the Gazette. Beyond that Saltzgaver didn’t know what would become of Grunion Gazette in the future, and I couldn’t immediately reach another editor at SCNG.
“I’m not going away,” he said, even though he kind of is. “I love Long Beach and I’m going to continue to be involved with the community, and I’m happy to keep the column so I can continue to opine.”
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