The voice void
Steve Moss profoundly changed the direction of my life. He gave me the opportunities and support that have shaped who I am today: a progressive journalist vocally opposed to war and injustice. When I was in my final year as a Cal Poly student back in 1991, he gave me a forum to develop my arguments against the Gulf War. And when I was a daily newspaper reporter frustrated by the limitations of mainstream journalism, in 1995 gave me a job and started my career in alternative journalism, where I still work today as city editor for the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Yet it isn’t this role as mentor and benefactor that I’ve been thinking about since Sunday, when Glen Starkey called me to say that Steve was dead. It’s been a strange mix of little things that have occupied my thoughts: things I wished I’d told him, little snippets of discussions we had, images of him making graphics with clip art and an Exacto knife, all those generous and kind-hearted things he did to help me through some rough spots, the contrast between his powerful, curious mind and the bouts with depression that would shut him down.
His illness, our political differences, and the fact that we lived in different cities combined to keep us from talking for almost the last year. It’s something I’ll always regret. Our arguments with one another could be fierce, as people throughout the building could attest, but they never got personal or dismissive, as many can get during these polarized times. We always respected one another and would converse with the intimacy of old friends, which is what we were. Friends, but not quite equals, because Steve was still my elder, my boss, and a father figure to me.
After my divorce when times were tight, he would sometimes slip me envelopes of cash from his own account. He knew I needed more than the paper’s lean budget would allow, and it was almost as important to me at that time as the hours that we would spend talking about my situation. When I spent more than a year actively trying to move to a newspaper closer to my kids in Modesto, he supported me, wrote me the best letter of reference I’ve ever read and patiently waited for me to make my move. And when my move to Monterey didn’t work out very well for either him or me, he welcomed me back six months later and gave me a free day off every three weeks to allow for longer but less frequent weekends with my kids.
In total, I spent more than four years working as a staff writer under Steve Moss. Under his tutelage, I developed a passion for the craft of journalism, compassion for the subjects that needed it, the courage to speak truth to power, and the creativity to use the language in ways that evoke emotion or action in readers. And one more thing: that voice.
As many know, or probably should learn at this point, Steve was the voice of Shredder. Other writers would sometimes pen items for Shredder, but they always went through Steve and needed to hew to the voice that he’d developed for the column or else they’d be rewritten (as I learned many, many times). It was a voice that was smart, biting, funny, snarky, and expressive of powerful truths – just like the man himself.
So I learned the voice and moved on, which is why when you read Capital Bites in the Sacramento News & Review, Squid Fry in Coast Weekly, or many of the items that appear in the San Francisco Bay Guardian, you’ll hear that voice, Steve Moss’s voice, a voice of reason, wit, and warmth that is now sadly silent. It’s a voice I’ll miss.
Steven T. Jones is the city editor at the San Francisco Bay Guardian.