I loved my friend Susan Whitney's parting shot from the Deseret News. With a small gaggle of us gathered round, she performed a ritual burning on Regent Street. There were business cards, old photographs, a poster and sections of the newspaper.

There's no point in going into detail about the significance of these items because there are a lot of inside jokes that you readers wouldn't understand without many column inches spent explaining it away. Even then you might not get it.

The point is, it was a whimsical way, a cathartic way, to cap a fine career in journalism.

There have been far too many goodbyes in recent weeks to contemplate. More will come. We've lost some of our best people, our institutional memory, to our recent reduction in force.

There was a time when everyone who retired from this venerable institution got an ice cream social. They were able to say a few words, introduce family and invited guests. There was a little time for bosses to say how much they appreciated their labors. Between the cake, ice cream and hugs, a few tears were shed.

I've always hated those parties. Not because I didn't care for the people retiring but because I cared so much for them. I hate goodbyes. I always have.

Now I feel bad that there is no opportunity for that one-on-one recognition because so many people are trickling out the door at once, although I understand a mass gathering is being planned. These folks deserve a party because they've poured their hearts and souls into this newspaper for decades. I don't think we yet understand how much their talents will be missed.

It feels odd, too, because they've given us survivors a gift of sorts. Because they left, we were able to keep our jobs. Many of us are people who are trying to pay for orthodontia, automobile insurance for teen drivers, college tuition, church missions and weddings. We're people who have yet to retire our mortgages or second mortgages. We're people who probably could have found work elsewhere but probably not work as satisfying as what we do or with colleagues who are more like family than co-workers.

Sorry. It's the survivor's guilt talking.

The sad thing is, the same scene is being repeated at newspapers around the country. Newspapers everywhere are losing some of their best and most experienced journalists because of the downturn in our industry. Then what?

It's not just about people losing jobs. It's about readers losing the benefit of these journalists' experience and their ability to tell stories, capture images in photographs, create graphics, edit stories and package stories in a way that makes our complex world understandable.

When we lose credible information, what happens to other institutions in our society? Do they function as effectively when newspaper ranks are so thin that there are far fewer journalists out there to serve the watchdog role? Are they more prone to corruption?

There have been many times in my 25-plus years as a journalist that I've wondered if it even mattered that I stayed up until midnight covering a school board meeting or that during my first year covering the Utah Legislature I covered every committee meeting I was assigned to, only to learn that the public process is a far different animal than the political process on Utah's Capitol Hill.

Our colleague Geoff Fattah reminded us all in his parting e-mail why we do what we do.

"As journalists, you stand between a free and open society, and tyranny. You give voice to the people who have none and defend the public's right to know. You do this job, not because it will make you rich but because you have the satisfaction of knowing what you do each and every day informs our readers and keeps a steady light of an open society shining on so many corners."

As is often the case, one of my colleagues has said it better than I ever could. See what we'll all be missing?

Marjorie Cortez, who prefers "farewell" to "goodbye," is a Deseret News editorial writer. E-mail: [email protected]