The newspapers! Sir, they are the most villainous, licentious, abominable, infernal ... Not that I ever read them. -- Richard Brinsley Sheridan
Once upon a time, and what a time it was -- February 16th, 1989, to be exact -- the first Memphis Flyer hit the streets (though at a slim 20 pages, the sound of it hitting the pavement wouldnt have made much noise). There was a Bush newly installed in the White House and a story in the Flyer about pollution coming from the Velsicol Chemical corporation. Actually, it was a lot like last weeks issue, come to think of it.
But not really. Last weeks issue didnt have a column by the late Lydel Sims speculating on the feasibility of building The Pyramid. Nor did it have a sports column by Dave Woloshin, or a list of celebrity birthdays. (The latter feature didnt last long. Mainly, I suspect, because Memphis only has about six celebrities. Seven, if you count Elvis.) That first Flyer did have a few -- very few -- advertisers, including the Sir Laf-A-Lot comedy club (324-JOKE) and eight personals. (Oddly, even in those faraway times the women liked long walks and sunsets.)
That brave little first issue didnt lack for spunk -- or ambition. In a letter to readers, publisher and Flyer founder Kenneth Neill promised that the new paper would be bold, sassy, controversial, entertaining, and informative. Those are still the standards we strive for, though there have been some weeks when Id settle for three out of five.
When I meet someone and they find out what I do for a living they usually ask one of three questions. The most common of these queries is: Where do you find all the stuff for News of the Weird? My stock answer is: We have our sources, pal. If you do something weird, our highly paid weird news reporters will be on it in a flash.
This, of course, is a lie. News of the Weird is actually a syndicated column, like Ann Landers or William Raspberry. Isnt that weird?
The second question I hear all the time is: How do yall make any money since your papers free? The answer is simple. Money just isnt important to us. Were all volunteers for the great liberal mass-media conspiracy and we do this noble work because we believe in our cause, comrade.
This also is a lie. But youd be surprised how many people nod sagely, as if Id confirmed the obvious. The truth is we charge our advertisers a modest fee so they can reach our 200,000 wealthy and influential readers -- including you, my dear friend -- with their messages. We manage to scrimp by on this somehow.
The third question is: Whats Tim Sampson really like? This is an easy one. Tim is just like he is in his We Recommend column. He lives with cats, smokes incessantly, loves Elizabeth Taylor, wakes up in his yard occasionally, and he really doesnt care what you do. This is not a lie. I should add that he also has a heart of gold and a fondness for the underdog. Tim used to be normal, but four years of editing this newspaper took its toll. He got the first shift, when the Flyer was struggling to become established, which it did in no small measure because of his ground-breaking column and his many long nights in the office burning the midnight, um, oil.
Dennis Freeland followed Tim as editor in 1993 and for eight hard-working years ushered the paper to new heights -- and numerous regional and national editorial awards. Last summer, he passed the reins to me. And foolishly, I took them. Kidding. This is a great job, mainly because of all the groundwork done by the two editors who came before me.
Id like to mention lots of other people whove contributed to the Flyers success through the years, but their names would fill this column. So I wont do that. But when youve got a moment, turn to page 13 and take a look at the masthead. Without the efforts of every person listed there the Flyer
Finally, theres you, our readers. Im not kidding when I say we truly value your input -- your letters, phone calls, e-mails, occasional death threats -- all of it.
So thanks for helping us celebrate 12 great years. And heres to being around for a few dozen more.
My stepdaughter, Agatha, has moved back from Brooklyn to live in our garage apartment until next summer. She's a law school grad and clerking for a federal judge in Memphis. I love her dearly, but she has one habit that has caused me stress. She takes in foster dogs ...