Archive for February, 2007

Reality Sinks In

Monday, February 12th, 2007

My last day as a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist was Friday, Feb. 2. The week that followed felt more like vacation than a brave new beginning. I passed the week quite nicely catching up on long-ignored paperwork, clearing brush out in the woods, taking walks, sampling draft beers from the local watering holes and — yes, I’ll admit it — copping a few mid-afternoon naps in the winter sunlight streaming into our family room, usually after the beers. Funny how that works.

I also spent a good part of the week reading (and trying to answer as many as possible) farewell emails from Inquirer readers. My supervisor at The Inquirer, at my request, made arrangements to keep my work email up and running for a while so I could receive messages that came in after my final column.
(You can read it at .)

Like I said, life didn’t seem much different. As a columnist, I would check my work email daily — no, make that several times a day — even when I was on vacation. Even when I was out of the country. So as long as I could continue emailing back and forth with readers, it seemed like the status quo. That all changed this past Friday, Feb. 9, one week after cleaning out my desk, when I went to log on to check my Inquirer email as usual. My password was no longer valid. My account had been closed. That’s when it finally seemed real. “Holy cow,” I thought, “this is it; this isn’t pretend. I’m no longer a columnist. I’m no longer employed by The Inquirer, or by anyone, for that matter.”

It was at once exhilirating and just a little scary. With the exception of a one-year stint in graduate school twenty years ago, this is my first time since I started my first newspaper job in 1979 that I have not had a full-time hourly job. My friend Dan has been razzing me relentlessly about my new life now that I’m no longer, as he puts it, “workin’ for Da Man.” He pictures me spending my days in my bathrobe watching soap operas and eating Oreos. That is so far off the mark, it’s not even funny. As anyone who knows me will attest, I’m strictly a Chips Ahoy kind of guy.

I also have more than enough work to keep me from getting bored. Between writing projects and speaking invitations and an upcoming publicity tour for my forthcoming children’s book, “Bad Dog, Marley!”, which is due out in May, I don’t anticipate too much free time for sitting around with the remote. Also in May, a young-reader edition of Marley & Me, titled “Marley, A Dog Like No Other,” will be released, and I will be traveling around promoting that as well.

At any rate, onward. To the beer store! No, I mean, to new adventures! Yeah, that’s it…

See you over on the message boards.



A New Chapter

Saturday, February 3rd, 2007

At The Philadelphia Inquirer, where I have worked as a columnist since 2002, I occupied a tiny, windowless office. Over the years I made it as cheery as I could, putting up posters and photographs and paintings and plaques on the walls. It felt a little odd yesterday as I pulled everything off the walls and out of my drawers and loaded it into the trunk of my car. The end of one chapter, and the beginning of the next.

Friday was my last day as an Inquirer staff columnist, and I wrote my goodbye at the end of my last column. You can read it at: .

As I say in the column, I resigned mostly because I need to put some balance back into my life and find more time for book-writing projects. Since Marley & Me came out in October 2005, my life has been a blur, and I essentially have been working two — or possibly three — fulltime jobs as I juggled book publicity, column writing, book-tour travel, and everything else that has gone with this whirlwind. It’s been wonderful, the experience of a lifetime, but I knew something had to give eventually.

The reason I am doing this now rather than, say, six months from now, is because of a series of layoffs at my paper. The Inquirer, like many American newspapers, has been going through a lot of turmoil lately as it tries to figure out how to survive in the new media economy. Circulation has been dropping as more and more readers simply choose to read newspapers online for free, and advertisers increasingly are putting their dollars into other media. So it’s been a tough time. A few weeks ago, 70 of my newsroom colleagues were handed layoff notices. Many of them were reporters and copy editors who started at the same time I did, during a big staff expansion four years ago. My position was spared, but still… I came in with them; it just felt right that I should go out with them, too. By resigning now, I can at least know that my position will go toward the total body count the paper needed to lose. Who knows, maybe someone’s job will be saved as a result. That’s my hope, anyway.

I wish The Inquirer the best of luck as it moves forward. It is a great paper with a great past, and, I remain hopeful, a bright future.

I’ve always said — and wrote in the book, too — that one of the most rewarding parts of being a newspaper columnist is the great relationship between the writer and readers. You file a column at 6 p.m. and go home; the next morning dozens, sometimes hundreds, of readers have called or emailed to tell you what they thought. With few exceptions, I’ve always been impressed at the intelligence and sensitivity of these responses — and sometimes the sheer kindness. Yesterday, following my final column, was no exception. Just like after I wrote about Marley’s death, they poured in. I started out trying to answer each one individually, but have not been able to keep up. So let me thank you here for taking the time to shower me with your farewell notes. They mean a lot to me.

Here’s a sampling from my mailbox:

Dear John,
Do you know that I read your last column from the same place I was when I read your first? I was commuting to Center City on the train when you came on board and wondered if the new guy would be any good. Reading a new column is like buying a new pair of shoes. You wonder how long before they feel comfortable. Before long, you wonder how you ever lived without it. Well, the new guy turned out to be pretty good after all, and I looked forward to every column.
What good times we had on the morning commute: stupid contests, angry columns, funny columns, stories about your silly dog, and sad columns. Some of them moved me to tears, but today’s took my breath away. Oh, and also moved me to tears again. I’m sure you’ll hear from many of your readers, but you’ll never know how much your words meant and how much you’ll be missed. Take care of your family, especially the boys who thought Pennsylvania was filled with pencils!
Terri Ventresca

Dear Mr Grogan,
How can you leave us?! How I will miss your wonderfully written columns, and
of course today you show us so beautifully what we will be missing with the
soldier’s homecoming story. Once again you made me cry. How many times has
your writing touched me or made me laugh? There are too many to count.
 I hated when you were away from the Inquirer pages on your book tour. How
 will I handle not ever being able to read your column again? I wish you well in your new life adventure. Thank you for all the wonderful columns you have written for us. You will be greatly missed.
 Elizabeth Carney

Dear Mr. Grogan:
I was just thinking about the photo of your parents you had put in the paper, right before your father died. I wrote you because I was going through similar times with the opposite parent. I found the saved e-mail and response from you and re-read them just this week. How prescient! I had noticed your absence from the pages of this paper lately and I guess intuitively I suspected something was up. How sad I am to be correct. We in the Philadelphia metropolitan area have been lucky to have some amazing columnists over the years. But they always leave. I can still remember reading Steve Lopez as he took on the city government. Now you are gone and your absence is palpable and heartbreaking.
Debbie Oliver
Churchville, PA

Dear John,
Have tremendously enjoyed your column. Will miss it greatly. Cried and laughed through Marley and Me. Best of luck to you.
 Donna Dickerson

Since the great McDonalds boycott, I have looked forward to reading each and every one of your columns with rapt anticipation. Thank you for helping me take a broader perspective in evaluating the news, current events, social and political issues. Most importantly, thanks for helping me to take time every day to take notice the little things in life, because they are the biggest things when everything is said and done. I’ll miss you.
John Morton
Kennett Square, PA

Dear John,
From your first column, I’ve felt like you’re an old (i.e., long-time!) friend. You let me and all your readers into your life, your mind, and your heart. I don’t know if I’ve written to you or called you before to comment on any of your columns, but I know I’ve written many a reply to you in my head.
So, I was very sorry to read in this morning’s paper that today is your last column. I have enjoyed them all from the very beginning and eagerly looked forward to reading them each week. I thank you for brightening my mornings. There will definitely be a void there now.
Your faithful reader,
Lynne Kalish