The year was 2002. The world was still processing the tragic events of 9/11. The Department of Homeland Security was created and Guantanamo Bay saw its first detainees. Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped from her home in Salt Lake City. The D.C. Sniper began terrorizing drivers in Montgomery County, Maryland. The first “Spiderman” movie was released and “A Beautiful Mind” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback and “Hot in Herre” by Nelly topped the charts and a young Kelly Clarkson was named the first “American Idol.” Mobile began a year-long party celebrating its tricentennial.
And the first issue of Lagniappe hit the streets on July 24.
Our Readers’ Choice Awards, the Nappies, always coincide with the anniversary of the paper, so we always get a little reminiscent this week. And it’s hard to believe this week will mark 19 years of giving Mobile “a little something extra.” Almost two decades.
I was 25 years old when Rob and I started this paper. It was the first thing I did out of college, and I always like to say I was too stupid to know any better and because I didn’t have any kids or responsibilities at the time, it definitely made it easier to take a chance.
And it’s the only thing I have done for my entire adult life. Sometimes that makes me extraordinarily proud and sometimes it makes me depressed.
Maybe “depressed” is not the right word. But I just think, if this is the only thing I ever do with my life, will it matter? Did it make a difference?
I think everyone — no matter their profession — ponders that question at some point in their life, usually as gray starts becoming their predominant hair strand color. Which mine certainly has. Thank goodness for Miss Clairol.
Sometimes I do think we have made a difference. Some of the stories our great reporters have produced over the years, shining a light on the egregious or the overlooked, have effected real change. And that’s when it feels glorious and when you know it’s all worth it.
But there are just as many examples of us doing big investigative series and absolutely nothing changes. People will say, “Oh, that’s terrible. I can’t believe he/she/they did that or are planning to do that.” But then nothing happens. Sometimes the “system” — whatever it may be — is seemingly just too big to fight or to change. And that’s when you get a little down.
Since I am engaging in ink therapy here instead of lounging on a shrink’s couch, I will tell you too what some “journalism” has become today is also depressing.
Not to sound too “get off my lawn,” but back when we started this paper — even just 19 years ago — the idea of a reporter expressing their personal views on an issue was a sin almost as bad as plagiarism. Of course, you would have personal feelings on an issue — reporters are human beings — but you kept those to yourself because your audience needed to know you were going to put those feelings in a box and present both sides of the story as fair and unbiased as possible. If you were good at this, your audience never knew what “side” you were on.
Now, you get on Twitter and every reporter for every major news organization is airing their thoughts on absolutely everything.
Some — even a recent Pulitzer Prize winner — argue that is a more honest way to cover the news. If you put it all out there, then your audience knows where you are coming from. But I disagree. Because just like life, the stories we are covering are always evolving. Sometimes the villain turns into the hero or vice versa. And if you have a bunch of declarations out there about this, that and the other, how are you supposed to cover that evolution? I don’t see how you can. At least not in a believable fashion.
And I think that’s why a lot of people don’t trust or absolutely hate the media these days. In this increasingly polarized world, many news organizations have just decided to pick a side and serve it. Which I think in a way is easier. Sure, you will be reviled by 50 percent of the population, but they are never going to watch or read you anyway. You are simply preaching to the choir and telling your audience what they want to hear. And some people seem to like and want that. What has happened to intellectual curiosity? Every issue is complex. There is a lot of gray area to cover. Don’t you want to understand what the other “side” is thinking? But in this red and blue world we live in, people seem to want black and white — this person or party is evil and, therefore, everything they do is evil. The end.
At Lagniappe, we have always tried to tell the story as accurately as we can no matter if it involves a so-called red or blue person or issue. And so we get criticism from both “sides.”
When we write something the “right” doesn’t like, our veracity gets questioned. It’s totally made-up, “fake news.” When we write something the “left” doesn’t agree with, that writer should be fired and subscriptions should be canceled. The end. It’s almost comical at this point.
But I do think most of our readers aren’t like this and they “get us” at this point, and I am grateful for you all.
I know this sounds like the most depressing “Happy Birthday, Lagniappe” column ever. And I don’t mean for it to be. I guess I am trying to say, in spite of all of the changing dynamics in society and journalism in the world we live in today, I am still very proud of the work we do. In fact, I am especially proud of it because of this. We have some of the best reporters and writers in the state, who have produced outstanding work over the last 19 years. I am always proud of the coverage our editors give to the local arts, sports, music, food and business communities.
Because that’s our job. It’s what we are supposed to do. And while there is a lot of “noise” out there these days, we are just going to continue to do that job to the best of our ability and keep on keeping on for years to come. Until my hair finally turns white. Like it or not. The end.
Thanks to everyone for supporting this paper. We have truly been blessed to have such supportive readers and advertisers. We remain forever grateful.
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