Four of us from the Flyer spent a few days last week in Austin, attending the annual Association of Alternative Newsmedia conference. It's always a great opportunity to meet and socialize with our peers around the country who are working to keep alternative journalism alive and thriving in these perilous times.
I came away both encouraged and discouraged. Encouraged, because so many papers are still doing such fantastic work, publishing stories that are making a real difference in their communities. Discouraged, because so many papers are fighting to retain the advertising support necessary to pay the reporters and editors who do that fine work.
"We are taken for granted," is a sentence I heard from several editors. "Everyone reads us, but our ad dollars are down." It echos a column I wrote a few weeks back, bemoaning the reliance of local businesses on free social media promotion rather than utilizing the local media that are telling their stories.
But everyone is carrying on, exploring new revenue streams, including seeking foundation support, coming up with more profitable events, and trying out ideas such as allowing readers to become "patrons" who pledge a modest amount to support the paper each year.
I'm also happy to report that the Flyer was nominated for three writing awards, more than most papers at the conference.
On Saturday night, many of us in Austin were gathered around a television watching the events in Baton Rouge, where cops in riot gear roughed up peaceful protest marchers and used tear gas and batons to disperse them. Shades of 1963, and very troubling.
On Sunday, when I landed at MEM, my phone's Twitter and newsfeed were filled with reports about a demonstration happening in downtown Memphis. I went home to watch, fearing the worst. But Memphis came through. The contrast between Baton Rouge and the Bluff City was astonishing. It made me proud of my city. (It also made me proud of the Flyer for its work last year in helping to stop the TDOT closure of the I-55 bridge. Imagine how much worse the situation would have been had we had only one bridge across the Mississippi.)
I would be remiss in not mentioning our sadness here at the Flyer over the death last week of Linda Baker, the beloved wife of Jackson Baker. Jackson has long been the public face for this paper, and when I tell people I work at the Flyer, the first thing I usually hear is, "Oh, I love Jackson Baker."
We do, too. And we mourn with him this week, even as we marvel at his indomitable spirit. An example (one of many): As I was driving to Linda's visitation Monday night, I got a call from Jackson — suggesting a tweak to the cover story. His dedication to this paper, to his family, and to his community is second to none. And we're lucky — all of us in this town — to have him. Be sure and read his column this week. It's a keeper.
I'm writing this from the restroom facility at Big Hill Pond State Park in southern McNairy County. On Monday, I commandeered the building, which contains the men's and women's restrooms, some racks of pamphlets, and two vending machines. There's no one here right now, but I plan to stay as long as necessary to protest the fact that the state of Tennessee is run by oppressive know-nothings who wouldn't know small government — or freedom, for that matter — if it bit them on their considerable backsides ...