There’s probably no kid in America right now sitting on the couch mindlessly blowing zombies away in “Resident Evil 2” and thinking, “One day, when I finally escape from Raccoon City, I think I’d like to work for a newspaper.”
For most, starting a journalism career these days is a truly scary proposition. More than 1,800 newspapers across the country have shut down in the past 15 years, and “news desert” counties — those without a newspaper — dot the map like acne on our aforementioned imaginary teenager. That is to say, there are plenty of newspaper-less places across this country now.
Add on all this “enemy of the people” stuff, and the journalism apple isn’t exactly shining like it did in the Woodward and Bernstein days.
I’ll admit even many eons ago when I was a teen, the thought of becoming an ink-stained wretch never crossed my mind either. I always thought I’d be a doctor, until I realized pre-med classes were cutting into beach time and the professor caught onto my trick of turning the Bunsen burner all the way up in chemistry lab so I could leave early.
Suddenly the somewhat less challenging communications degree was quite appealing. A professor thought I had some rudimentary abilities and pushed me to work with the student paper and get an internship at the Press-Register. One sunny late afternoon while tagging along with the police reporter, I got to watch an alligator chase a very large police officer onto the hood of his cruiser and I was hooked. What could possibly be more fun than doing this for a living?
Working at a few different newspapers over the next several years, I found out it wasn’t all alligators chasing fat cops or guys shooting each other over biscuits (another early favorite). The giant cabbage stories and dull features were more plentiful than whodunnit crimes or political investigations, but I never fell out of love with journalism for a minute. Even working on Capitol Hill was just a means to an end to find a way into a bigger, better gig.
But fate and family led me back to Mobile, where I figured I would pick my career back up with the Press-Register. They weren’t terribly impressed though, and I wound up teaching journalism at South and advising the student newspaper.
A couple of years into that gig, though, Ashley (Toland) Trice told me she had the big idea of starting her own newspaper and asked if I’d write for it. The idea was exciting and before long it became clear we were the only people who really were going to make it happen, so she let me be a partner.
That was 17 years ago.
Every year when the Nappies come around I can’t help but get a little nostalgic. Ashley and I will sometimes break out one of our horrible-looking issues from the first few years and laugh and cringe and wonder aloud how in the hell this crazy newspaper ever got off the ground. I still am not completely sure. I’d love to say there was a great master plan and fantastic execution, but those early editions cast such notions into serious doubt.
The were plenty of times early on when it looked like we’d fail like others before us had and like some told us we would. At times like that we just worked harder and often got luckier. There’ve always been angels hovering around who helped us when we needed it most. Any time we’ve had our backs against the wall, someone around here in our hometown would step up and say they believed in what we were trying to do and that this area needed an independent voice reporting the news.
Being uncomfortable has been a way of life for 17 years, but I can definitely remember the early years and realize how far we’ve come and how much this community has embraced the irreverent newspaper with the unpronounceable, unspellable name.
We are blessed with a fantastic staff — amazingly talented artists, top-flight columnists, some of the best reporters in the state, a driven sales team and dedicated office staff. Not to mention the people who go out every week in any kind of weather to make sure 30,000 newspapers make it where they need to go.
Putting out a newspaper is an amazing magic trick. There are so many moving parts and so much expectation and a constant striving for perfection, fairness and accuracy. Every Tuesday when the new issue is sent to the printer we all still let out a sigh of relief. Then it starts again.
But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I can’t think of anything more fun to do than putting out a newspaper for Mobile and Baldwin counties. If I’d known what newspaper work would be like, I might have even skipped a few beach days in college to work for that college newspaper. Maybe.
Year 17 has been a good one, as well as a challenging one. Lagniappe is in the enviable position of being a newspaper that is still growing, something not many can say. With so many newspapers in this country going belly up, it says a lot that you all still support us.
Without adding any staff, we started putting out two issues of the paper each week, producing between 6,000 and 9,000 words of reporting every issue for each side of the bay. We’ve gone from doing about two stories a week in Baldwin to around 10, not to mention breaking stories during the week online.
One of our new challenges has been launching a paywall on our website. It wasn’t a popular decision, but it’s where all newspapers are going and it’s necessary to continue growing and hopefully to do much, much more to inform and entertain this community. Yes, we’ve repeatedly heard from the pissed off, but it’s only 21 cents a day, $1.50 a week. There probably aren’t many places you can walk in and buy a bottle of Diet Coke for $1.50, much less enjoy it as long as you can all of the information available on these electronic pages each week.
We have had a tremendous response in the first four months of the paywall and are thankful to all of you who believe local journalism is still worth something. Hopefully more and more of you will join in as well.
Thank you to all of the readers and advertisers who have made 17 years possible and helped Lagniappe grow from a big idea into the state’s largest weekly newspaper. We will continue to give you our very best through thick and thin, hurricanes and maybe even a zombie apocalypse.
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