The Reader and El Perico have entertained, informed, and inspired just about three decades of English and Spanish readers throughout Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska—two blue dots in a sea of dark red.

The papers did more than help us pass the time, but they did that, too. The two outlets shared a unique capacity to entertain, matched only by the reach of their combined, fearless journalistic integrity that few other publications could strive for.

The closure of The Reader/El Perico is an immeasurable loss for readers everywhere, like waking up one morning to find the ocean is missing.

But closure, in this instance, comes as a sigh of relief for our kind leader, John Heaston, who, for health reasons, is stepping down from running the papers to focus on his recovery. Godspeed, John! We send you infinite love and gratitude. We honor what you and your friends started growing back in February 1994.

Me? I was created six months later. When I turned 25, The Reader became my unlikely starting point, barreling down a new career path. You might call my discovery a moment of clarity during a quarter-life crisis.

For one, my band Midwest Depressed had broken up. For two, everything started changing around me but I felt like I was standing still. I moved four times during the summer of 2019. Up, down, and across Omaha, from Midtown to Millard, to Midtown again and again, until finally scaling the Gotham-like towers of Downtown.

During this arduous journey, traveling with no car in our very un-walkable city, I discovered The Reader—for no real reason except for my own existentialism.

I looked from the cracked sidewalks to the starlight that poked through the sky, kicking rocks in the July darkness during one random, late-night pedestrian’s encounter with the universe. There it was, a stack of free newspapers sitting on the news rack, which hadn’t been picked over.

I took two issues home to a 360-square-foot apartment that I shared, which had no rooms except for a bathroom, and damn sure no furniture. I was sitting on the floor, but I might as well have launched into the stratosphere. I inhaled every word.

The elaborate tapestry of sections on politics, events, art showcases, movies, and, of course, local and national music, gripped me immediately with its genuine depth—its pure ambition. The writing seemed to speak to me through the page.

Nothing else championed Omaha like this.

Something clicked inside my wheeling, jobless mind. For the next six months, I read everything I could get my hands on. I wrote as if my life depended on it. Looking back, now, I am sure that it did. Writing got me out of a depressive loop and gave me something much more tangible than hope, even if the words went nowhere.

So, I took the ice-cold plunge into freelance writing with an almost arrogant fearlessness. It was mere months before COVID-19 hit.

At the time, I lived in poverty with no internet. I borrowed Wi-Fi from the neighbors, sitting in a stairwell of our apartment to deliver my writing projects. I wrote alongside music and news blaring from a bulky RCA radio/speaker combo, repping our local NPR affiliate KIOS. I wrote for pennies and “donated” as much plasma as the centers would let me.

I could not stop writing—prose, poetry, and music—day or night.

After I had sharpened my writing tools in a building that began to collect more and more bullet holes, I applied to The Reader toward the end of 2020. After first not quite making the cut, a few months later, I was in. It became my first stable freelance writing job.

Almost three years later, my experience writing for The Reader is not exactly unique. It mirrors thirty years of experience shared by creatives in this town, who have since stayed or left—many of whom worked for The Reader/El Perico, and all of whom have read issues with regular affection after the excitement of first contact.

Today, inspiration washes over me. The outpour of support in the wake of this monumental closure leaves me feeling thankful to be one of many flashbulbs in a sea of stars.

And yes, processing the end of an era is strange. I am smiling because it happened, humming because the memory of our song will stick with us long after the music is over, and feeling brighter because the impact of this enlightening, ephemeral experience will ripple on long after we are all gone.

The Reader/El Perico gave us all a chance and met us where we were. The lives of freelancers changed, just as the lives of the reading audience changed in their own way with every issue.

We are all better for it.

— Matt Casas

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