When I was a kid, my gateway drug to the news was the comics page in the newspaper. As I got older and more curious about the world, I couldn’t help but notice that there was another comic or two in the front section of the paper, a few pages in. And along with them, there were some pretty interesting articles by very good writers saying interesting things — even if I didn’t necessarily agree with what they were saying.
Those early years reading the Rapid City Journal’s editorial page sparked a lifelong interest in public policy and the importance of robust debate and examining an issue from all conceivable sides, and from multiple points of view. And I felt like I had something to contribute to that discussion, although I wouldn’t have had the first clue how to go about submitting an op-ed.
With the coming of the early days of the internet, however – those glorious golden years of free range blogs before social media scooped up everyone and tried to tame the free speech landscape – anyone could give it a go. The range of ideas available were so much greater than any one dead tree editorial page, and you could work your way into a community of sorts with other writers and purveyors of ideas. And so I jumped into that bubbling pot of debate with both feet with various blogs of my own, and rarely looked back.
In spite of that magnificent chaos of free expression, there is still something special about seeing your name in print, and/or in having not just an amorphous blog but an honest to goodness regular column. I consider myself exceptionally lucky to have had that space, both here and previously at the Reno Gazette-Journal.
But all good things come to their ends, and it is with a lot of truly mixed emotions that I’ve decided to step back from my column, at least for awhile. This reflects no dissatisfaction with my dear friends and wonderful editors Jon and Elizabeth here at The Indy, to whom I am forever grateful for this and many other opportunities, as well as helping make me a better writer with critiques big and small. And it certainly is not my little entourage of trolls, who are rarely (if ever) actually noticed by me (sorry, guys), except to the extent they satisfy me that I am indeed over the target and landing meaningful blows.
Truly, it is simply a matter of time. It would be easier to just throw partisan red meat or repeat talking points, but I think that’s boring and not particularly useful. Writing a column like mine is terribly time-consuming, and as my law practice flourishes beyond my wildest expectations (I’m not above a little bragging), the column starts eating into family time, weekends, and the wee hours of the morning. And there are other opportunities to contribute to my community that I am engaged in, or am looking forward to giving a go. Post-election but pre-politicians-doing-anything is a good gap time to take a break.
But I will miss it. I am honored to have been a founding part of Team Indy. I am proud to have kept the heat on the centers of power, while doing my best to keep my hits above the belt. And most of all, I am so grateful for the hundreds of emails, texts, social media shares, and even occasionally (but always hilarious) hate-mail I’ve gotten over the years.
Of those, perhaps my favorite was a man in Indiana who had stumbled across a piece I wrote a few months ago about the false choice between liberty and safety. He told me it inspired him to begin his own blog. Not only is it the highest compliment, but it illustrates the value of sharing ideas and debating with one another. If I have done nothing else with my columns over the years, my most fervent hope is that it sparked other people to give their own writing a real go.
Ideas spread, and are not just echoed, but modified and improved. They clash in the light of day, with the crucible of open debate letting the best of them emerge. It is an imperfect way of processing our world (as comments sections across the internet too often show us), but so much better than either governments or tech giants trying to control the discussion or censor “bad” ideas or even likely false assertions. Just as we are better off having competitive political parties who must fight for the votes of independent-minded people (instead of merely marshalling their respective tribes every two years), so too do we gain the most from pitting our own ideological positions against those with whom we disagree. As the cultural norm of a commitment to free speech (and other civil liberties) wanes, spreading ideas (especially dissenting ones) is a more critical act than ever.
And so I hope that if you have valued this column and an airing of this particular point of view, you, too, will join the fray. Perhaps I’ll even join in again from time to time. Our government governs best when it is under a magnifying glass, and now more than ever our increasingly desperate and feckless state government needs that critique, as it continues to trade away civil liberties for the illusion of safety while predictably and inevitably losing both for us all. Plenty is written on the national level, but scrutiny of the folks in Carson City who have a far greater impact on our everyday lives is never in sufficient supply.
And it is easier than ever to make your voice heard, and this news outlet – which belongs to its readers – better serves us all when the broadest possible ideological mix is represented in its pages. I, for one, am eager to see what more Nevadans have to say.
So thank you all for your readership, your critiques, your support, and your ongoing contributions to quality journalism and robust, high-level debate in Nevada. Thank you for letting me be a part of it. And I look forward to seeing where the next decade takes us all.
Orrin Johnson has been writing and commenting on Nevada and national politics since 2007. He started with an independent blog, First Principles, and was a regular columnist for the Reno Gazette-Journal from 2015-2016. By day, he is a criminal defense attorney in Reno. Follow him on Twitter and/or Parler @orrinjohnson, or contact him at [email protected]