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A conversation with Jim Baxter

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Q. How do you feel about the merger — now that we’re over two months into it?

A. Actually, I feel good about it. It was time to move on. I’m very grateful to Jim Yarbrough and Q-Notes for the opportunity to put The Front Page to rest in the best possible way. The paper’s been microfilmed and all the debris in my office has become valuable archival material for the southern LGBT collection at Duke. So posterity’s taken care of. And Jim Duley, who worked with me on the paper longer than anyone, is glad to be able to spend more time at home with his husband, I’m sure. Come to think of it, maybe now I can get me one of those. A husband, I mean. It’s about damn time.

Q. What are you thoughts on the award you’re about to receive?

A. I was flabbergasted when Jim Yarbrough first told me about it and I’m still flabbergasted. For starters, aren’t you supposed to be dead or something before they name things after you? I’m flattered, of course. But, beyond this year, it’s gratifying to know that it will be one more way to honor other folks. There are so many who work so hard and they deserve recognition. Add to which, it’s probably in better taste than the memorial I was thinking of. There’s a small park in Raleigh, called Moore Square, not far from where The Front Page had its offices behind White Rabbit Books. On the far side of the park, there’s a statue of Josephus Daniels, founder of the News & Observer, raising his arm in salute to the newspaper’s building across the street. I thought on the other side of the park there could be a statue of me, waving vaguely in the direction of the Rabbit. But nobody seemed to get real worked up about the idea. I can’t imagine why not.

Q. What are you doing now and what are your future plans?

A. One of the pluses of my new situation is that is has made it possible for me to go back to school. I was tired of working two jobs all the time and, much as I love books and bookselling, my feet are just not up to it anymore. So I’m in the master’s program in journalism at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. And, yes, I am the oldest person in my class! I’m not sure where this will lead beyond, hopefully, one job with sufficient income and the chance to sit down at least part of the time. But it is very exciting.

It’s also sobering. I mean, if I had any pompous ideas about myself as a journalist, I’d be suffering right now. I think it’s fair to call me a publisher, since I did actually publish something for 26 years. And even edit, sometimes, though not to anybody’s standards but mine that particular day. A writer, occasionally. But a journalist? No.

Q. Some people have said that with The Front Page gone — it’s like the end of an era. What do you think?

A. I have to admit that what does come to mind is all the things The Front Page wasn’t. I don’t mean to put the paper or myself down, I think it was as good as time and circumstances allowed, but I wanted it to be better. Better news writing. More letters to the editor. More local involvement. And there are so many stories that I wanted to write, that should have been written, that never got done. So to the people and organizations whose stories didn’t get into the paper, I apologize.

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