Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stephen King, Master of Non-horror

Like most writers of horror fiction, I can trace my roots directly to Stephen King.  The first time I picked up "The Stand," the hook was set.  After finishing "It," that hook was swallowed and securely wrapped around my gizzard.  The only way to disgorge my devotion to his writing would be to jam a screwdriver down my gullet and twist until all my internal organs are ripped loose. 

Unfortunately, because of stories like "Salem's Lot," "Silver Bullet," and "Needful Things," his place as a horror writer is cemented.  Not a writer, but a horror writer.  To paraphrase a line from Dennis Miller, being the top horror writer is a lot like being valedictorian at summer school. 

Folks who would praise Melville's work on "Moby Dick" ad nauseum will turn up their collective snoots at anything bearing King's seal.  Personally I find this funny, as Melville's tale is essentially a horror story highlighting a big white waterborne monster. 

From my perspective, King isn't a master of horror -- he's a master of the written word.  Upon closer inspection, even his most famous books aren't horror themes; they're universal themes we can all relate to, which is why it's such an injustice to pigeonhole him into a very narrow slot.  Carrie, his first published novel, wasn't as much about immolated prom-goers as it was about a scared, bullied, and abused teenager.  Firestarter was less about pyrokinesis and more about a connection between child and parent and what happens when that trust is broken.  Stand By Me is the seminal pre-teen adventure story.  Bag of Bones is a love story.  And of course you have the Dark Tower series, which is the truest quest literature since Alfred Lord Tennyson's 12-part saga of King Arthur.  Take out the lobstrosities, and most of the Gunslinger books wouldn't ring the horror bell among even the most delicate observers. 

The fact that Roland's tale isn't taught in middle school English classes alongside J.R.R. Tolkien and Melville is more a testament to the pervasive level of bias that still discards even great modern American writers to the slough pile if they are in any way tainted by a populist horror label.

I've experienced the anti-horror bias even in my own novel, "Howl of a Thousand Winds."  A bank teller recently asked me about my book after it reached the number one spot on the Sunbury Press bestsellers list.  I made the mistake of opening with "it's a horror novel that asks 'what if the people dying in snowstorms aren't really being killed by the cold and the snow?'"  She got as far as the "errr" sound in "horror" before her face switched off and the shutter doors slammed down over her ear canals.  "I don't read horror," she answered.  When I tried to explain that it wasn't a gore-fest like a lot of today's "horror" movies that rely on tanker trucks full of fake blood and gratuitous dismemberments to jump start movie-goer senses, it didn't matter.  She wouldn't read it because I used the "hor" word. 

Ironically, I'd bet a box full of chocolate-covered goat eyeballs that the woman has seen at least three Stephen King movies in her lifetime without running them through her anti-horror filter.  It's not really the genre that turns her off, it's the generalization.

And that's the point.  King isn't a horror writer.  He's a writer that includes horror in some of his work.  It would be like labeling Peter Benchley a pornographer because he included a sex scene in "Jaws." 

In real life, people often use pejoratives to seine out others as an expedient way to codify an individual instead of taking time getting to know the person.  If we're guilty of doing that to other humans, we're even more ruthless in assigning labels to their various words and works.

In the sifting, we miss opportunities for broader and more enlightening experiences, which is the greatest of all life's ironies.  We watch movies and TV shows about out-of-the-ordinary incidents, then curse our own lives made mundane by a lack of extraordinary events -- precisely the kind of events that can only be found when we veer off the sanctimoniously marked trails.

Of all my reasons for gratitude toward Stephen King -- inspiring me to be a writer, entertaining me for thousands of hours with his books and movies, teaching me courage by never apologizing for what he writes -- his greatest gift was opening the eyes of a non-horror fan to the mesmerizing writing that transcends tags.   

So here's to Stephen King...the master of non-horror.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Decisions About My Return

Photo by Tom Curtis

Nearly a decade ago, while living in Utah, I had a close group of family friends. Our three or four families got together for outings, barbeques, church, and camping, along with a variety of other activities.
They were terrific people, and included some of the most positive, spiritually uplifting individuals I have ever encountered.
I enjoyed the friendship and camaraderie, but there was always something I found odd.
Among our friends, which included professionals and business owners, it seemed that none of them were particularly fluent in current events.
During our conversations around the grill or on the phone, the topics usually revolved around the things going on in our neighborhood. Rarely was the topic of politics broached, and national events were hardly ever acknowledged.
Coming from "back east," where politics is often a contact sport, it was a unique existence to be surrounded by friends who didn't seem to care who was running for what office or what heinous crimes against humanity had been committed that week by the Republicans or Democrats.
Sometimes my existence was reminiscent of a place called Stepford, but the upside was that there were very few conflicts between the people in that group.
Overall, my friends seemed extremely happy, as if they were supremely satisfied by filling their days with lives that extended not much further than the end of the block.
They were content, free of the conflict that accompanies any dip in political waters.
I've been thinking about them a lot lately because my life doesn't have that level of peace.
I thought that, when I hung up my editor spurs a few months ago, the drama and frustration and endless sense of righteous indignation might subside. I wasn't plugged into the national scene as much as I was in the years before I got into the newspaper business, mostly because local politics can be all-consuming.
Don't get me wrong, I am currently living the dream. I'm writing. I'm creating worlds the way I think they should be within the pages of my novels and short stories. I'm not making any money at it (yet), but I'm doing what I absolutely love to do.
But part of my daily work includes writing articles for the MorrisWorkman.com website. A lot of those columns are topical, driven by national events as well as local politics. So I'm not completely out of the game.
Last week, my involvement in monitoring national stories included exposure to the Wall Street Protests which began on Sept. 17. I quickly became enraged at my former industry, the media, particularly their intentional decision to ignore the important story of average people protesting against the greedy and corrupt on Wall Street.
The ability of the corporate-owned media to black out such an important story made me realize that my pitiful little voice in the wilderness might just be a monumental waste of time.
It also reinforced something I've been trying to ignore for the last few years, namely that I barely recognize the country I now live in compared to the country I grew up in. They're like two different planets now.
For the last week, I've been contemplating a change in my life. I've thought about my Utah friends, and found myself a little envious of the peace and happiness they've found by choosing not to participate in political discourse.
During the last seven days, the experiment proved valid. I felt better, more at ease without the simmering anger of being dialed up about the wretched state of our nation.
I discovered that one key to happiness is to simply stop caring.
If I choose not to care what the rich are doing to the middle class, or what one side of Congress is doing to the other side of Congress, my stress level goes way down. And now that I've reached the half-century mark, I feel like I've earned the right to less stress. Particularly the self-inflicted kind.
However, during the last week, I discovered something else:
I can't not care. (nice double negative, eh?)
I'm an opinionated loudmouth who is genetically incapable of pretending that the emperor's new clothes are spiffy. I have this annoying predisposition to skeptically look toward the heavens whenever I hear that the sky is falling. I believe that every day should be open season on ostriches that hide their heads in the sand.
Most of all, I have been reminded that my favorite character in literature is Don Quixote. Like him, I'm certain that the word "kook" gets used a lot when my name comes up in some circles. That's because I'm apt to wake up in the morning, eat my bowl of Cheerios, and strap on my lance and shield in search of the nearest windmill.
I have decided that it's more important to continue the fight, even though I'm destined to lose, because there is nobility in the battle. (Goes to show what a crackpot I really am...caring a whit about "nobility" here in the 21st century).
I'm not so arrogant and egotistical as to think I can really make a difference in the grand scheme of things. But like Quixote, I have no choice but to continue fighting the good fight simply because it needs to be fought. There is honor in futility that cannot be found in surrender.
And in my warped mind, I always hold out the hope that maybe a tiny morsel might get through the babble and actually make someone out there think. I can't change the world, but if I can change one mind, maybe it's all worth it.
So I've decided to continue writing and railing.
My decision was further influenced by people who wrote to me, encouraging me to "keep at it." Some of you legitimately believe in the need for disputing voices to be heard. I'm gratified by your interest and supportive words, and appreciate you taking the time to send them. Thank you.
I'm also encouraged because the original reason for my hiatus has been sated.
News reports about the two-week-old Wall Street Protest have started trickling out on the cable news networks. Surprisingly, Fox News has had several reports over the last week, as has CNN. Reports also appeared in other mainstream media outlets like ABC. Of course, when 80 people get arrested, it's hard to ignore. Also, the arrests allowed the corporate media puppets a chance to show the protesters as deviants and criminals, which is what they want.
An even bigger surprise is that I've yet to see MSNBC, the news outlet that fancies itself the left-leaning defender of the proletariat, run any news stories on the protest.
Of course, none of the news networks have done a legitimate profile of the protest, including interviews with organizers or actual protesters, which confirms the bias that enraged me so thoroughly last week. But that's another article for another time.
For now, I feel recharged and ready to get back in the saddle, my lance at my side and a brigade of windmills on the horizon.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wall Street Protests Being Blacked Out

Just a few months ago, every news outlet in America heralded protests in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.  CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and most of the print media seemed insatiable in reporting on every scrap of information they could glean from these Middle Eastern countries as innocent civilians hit the streets to rally against oppression and the wrongs foisted on them by the powerful.
It was exciting to watch people halfway across the world exercise freedoms and force changes in countries not known for such displays and demands for democracy.
Fast forward to this weekend.
A protest involving more than 1,000 people began Saturday, forcing the closure of one of the most powerful streets in the world.  People armed with no more than signs and posters espoused their anger at unfettered power and greed which have wrecked the lives of the powerless.
By mid-day, police had barricaded the street, checking ID's to ensure only residents and workers were permitted to enter the area.  The protests continued on Sunday.  By Monday, like actions you would expect from the most despotic regions in the world, police began making arrests in an unsuccessful effort to quell the protest and reopen the street.
Where is this historic democratic exercise taking place?
Wall Street.  In New York City.
If you didn't know about it, don't be surprised.  This extraordinary group of people standing up against the richest, most powerful individuals and corporations history has ever known have toiled in near obscurity for more than 72 hours.
Because the mainstream news media has refused to report on it.
Don't take my word for it.  Spin through the cable news networks.  Crack open a Wall Street Journal or Los Angeles Times.  You won't find even a hint of this unrest, even though it is happening just a few blocks away from the very heart of America's news industry.
The only way you will find any information is if you go online and do a search.  There, you'll find pages and pages of news reports on this unprecedented protest.  Almost all of them will be from international news agencies, particularly those in London.  The whole world knows America is having its own "Jasmine Revolution."  Everyone, that is, except Americans.
You would expect a news blackout like this from communist nations or Middle Eastern dictators.
How can this happen in a nation whose first and most important founding trait is freedom of speech, and freedom of the press?
It can't be an accident; particularly not in the era of the 24-hour news cycle, where cable news outlets are ravenous in their pursuit of something to talk about every minute of every day.  Conspiracy theorists might make outrageous claims about Trilateral Commissions or the New World Order silencing news organizations. 
But I believe the truth is far more sinister.
It's about money.
While schoolchildren are naively taught that Washington, D.C. is the center of power in the United States, the truth is that all the real power is concentrated on Wall Street.  That's because, as Gordon Gecko tried to teach us, money is power. 
Wall Street is the financial center where nearly every major corporation trades, including shares of all of the news corporations.  But more importantly, it's where all of their advertisers go to exchange computerized money for computerized shares.
We'll never know the exact process of how the shroud of secrecy was cast over reporting of the protests, but it's a safe bet that powerful, life-giving advertisers told the ad-sucking news agencies that the unrest on Wall Street was a non-story, and should be treated as such.
Meanwhile, in a galactically ironic twist, the biggest news stories you will find on TV and in print over the last two days is what has been painted as the U.S. president's wicked plan to tax millionaires in an attempt to reduce the deficit that millionaires have been squawking about for years.  The great irony?  While average citizens have taken to the streets to vocalize their rage and frustration over legitimate corporate greed and the vast and growing chasm between the wealthy and the unwashed masses, Obama is being accused of fomenting "class warfare."
The fact that the media is manipulating Americans, intentionally keeping average citizens from knowing about this protest, is terrifying.  It is almost unfathomable to contemplate that people in a "free society" are being kept in the dark about other citizens speaking out against the uber-powerful.  It underscores something academics and despots have known for centuries, which is that he who controls the flow of information controls the world.
But it goes even deeper than just an exercise of censorship muscles by corporations.
Police have barricaded Wall Street, only allowing entry to those with papers to prove they live or work there. 
This is deeply terrifying.
"Your papers, please" has come to pass.
The government, in the form of the New York City Police Department, is doing their part to squash the freedom of speech and freedom of assembly allegedly guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.  Moreover, they are stopping American citizens from using a public street, solely to protect the richest and most powerful of entities from enduring the "nuisance" of peaceful protesters.
When you look deeper, it's not a surprise when you consider that the mayor of New York is Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire whose Bloomberg financial news TV network is one of the news sources keeping the protest a secret.
We as Americans should be very afraid.  If the richest and most powerful corporations and executives can make the voices of thousands of citizens disappear, make it as if no protest is taking place and keeping the rest of the country in the dark, what else can they do?
It turns out that singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron was prophetic when he released his 1970 song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised."
It also means that the last shreds of American democracy have been rendered impotent.  It's no longer "We the people."  The document should go ahead and be rewritten as "They the powerful."
Because the America taught to us in school and in song and story no longer exists.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 Brings Back Memories, Anger

On Sunday, my family and I watched several tributes to the devastating terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001.  Not the smarmy memorial shows (and that's what they were, shows) like the one at Ground Zero that featured babbling politicians and their tired bags of homilies and speeches, nor the manipulative retrospectives offered by the networks and cable news channels.  We watched several documentaries on the History Channel about the day itself.  We also watched a tremendous minute-by-minute rebroadcast of the NBC newscast from that day, which was featured on MSNBC.
I expected that we would be transported back in time to the shock, sadness, and even fear of those seminal moments that changed our world forever. 
Instead, I was surprised at the reaction in my living room.
While we each expressed sadness for the lives lost and the horror of seeing people jumping from the 100th floor of the tower, my family's overriding emotion was rage.
At one point, my wife was able to isolate a lot of that emotion into a single statement, claiming she wished we could go get Osama bin Laden, bring him back to life, then kill him again.
She's almost right; only her math is wrong.
I wish we could find him, resurrect him, then kill him another 2,995 times to atone for the lives robbed by his evil act.
We were outraged watching the shows dissect the fumblings of an inept FAA that received a warning of a hijacking from heroic stewardess Betty Ong aboard American Airlines flight 11 more than a half hour before the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, a warning that included 23 minutes of inquiries and repeats of the same questions while the air traffic controllers tried to play Sherlock Holmes in deciding who Ong was.  We were astounded by a military charged with protecting our country that didn't know how to respond or defend, an air force that actually sent F-16's in the air over Washington, D.C. armed with no missiles, dummy practice bullets, and no orders on what to do if they encountered a hijacked plane.  We were enraged all over again by a president that was told "America is under attack," then went on listening to a class of Florida fifth graders reciting lines from a reading book.  That same president then took an aerial sightseeing tour of the eastern U.S. aboard Air Force One while New York and Washington showed the confusion and incompetence to be expected from any entity left scrambling without a leader on the ground.
Worst of all, we were astounded all over again during the replay of the news coverage that day when NBC's Tom Brokaw reported that a journalist had interviewed someone named Osama bin Laden just a few days before, a terrorist who had issued a warning of the attack -  a warning which our intelligence agencies apparently missed or ignored.
Of course, all of these things are hindsight. 
The documentaries were also marked by the heroism of individuals who ignored their own safety to save the lives of strangers, like the first responders who raced into buildings that other people were racing to abandon.  Our present-day anger was fueled by the knowledge that the surviving first responders were not welcomed or included in the dog and pony show held by the politicians at Ground Zero on Sunday.
The greatest heroism was again recounted during one of the documentaries, which included a few minutes on the passengers of United flight 93.  Instead of becoming nameless statistics in another catastrophic crash site involving an iconic building, these people sacrificed their lives and refused to go down without a fight. 
In thinking about the future of our country and its safety against future attacks by Muslim extremists (a term which was used liberally and accurately during the original broadcast, but has been effectively banned by today's political correctness in which we're not allowed to label our enemies), I realized that the men and women of United flight 93 are the real reason another attack on America has become less likely. 
Certainly our government bureaucracies and intelligence agencies have improved their game, although our national leadership in Congress and the White House remains woefully inadequate.  Also, our courageous men and women in uniform have taught the armed religious zealots that they will pay a price for their arrogance, even though our military leadership seems as inept as our political leadership.
However, individual Americans are now on notice, and remain vigilant.  Sure, there have been false alarms like Sunday's panic attacks on two different airplanes over passengers spending too much time in the bathroom, worries which drew F-16 escorts for the airliners.  But it was also the vigilance and action of passengers aboard American Airlines flight 63 in December of 2001 that stopped al Qaeda operative Richard Reid from blowing up the plane with explosives in his shoe.  More civilian heroes similarly stopped a Muslim extremist from blowing up a car bomb in Times Square in May of 2010.
The truth is that American passengers on an airplane or in a train will no longer sit idly by like sheep led to the slaughter when terrorists try to exercise their evil muscle.  The men and women of flight 93 taught us to fight back, a lesson America learned about three flights too late.
Sunday's documentaries reinforced the practical side of something we've known philosophically for years, which is the fact that while America is foundering under weak and impotent leadership at nearly every single level, average American civilians and soldiers continue to be this country's greatest strength.  We can only hope that someday we will find the leadership and give rise to a government that is worthy of the brave people they are serving.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Shame of 10 Years

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding the 10th anniversary of 9/11, people will be pointing to American pride and the heartwarming stories of sacrifice and remembrance.
However, there are some things that won't be discussed because they don't paint the best picture of our country and who we are as a people. 
The first is the World Trade Center.
There will be a celebration at the site, which means our shame will be on display for the whole world to see.
That shame is the new World Trade Center building itself.  Or rather, what we have so far.
It is humiliating that the building isn't done.
It took one year to build the Empire State Building, the tallest building in the world at the time, and we did it with Depression-era technology.  It took seven years to build both of the original 110-story World Trade Center towers, with construction starting in 1966.  The first tower opened in 1972, the second in 1973.  Two buildings in seven years, and that is with 1960's technology.
Today we have supercomputers and hi-tech wizardry to make the design and implementation process a breeze.  We have 21st century equipment and skilled laborers who know how to erect a tall building quickly.  And yet here it is, 10 years after the twin towers fell, and we're only up to the 78th floor, out of 105 floors planned.
Which is another embarrassment.  The original WTC towers were each 110 stories.  After the towers fell, hack politicians like Rudy Giuliani and George W. Bush made bold boasts that "We will rebuild."  This isn't "rebuilding."  This is building something else, something smaller and less impressive.
Also, we're only building one tower, not two.  No matter how you slice it, the replacement for the twin towers leveled by unsophisticated terrorists is nowhere near as magnificent as the original.
In what has become typical American hype and deception, the developers are claiming the building will be 1,776 feet tall, a tribute to the year of our nation's founding.  The only problem is that it's not true.  The building will actually be 1,368 feet, the same height as the original World Trade Center building 1.  The other 400 feet will be antennas. 
So for us to say the building is 1,776 feet tall is a lie.  It would be like you living in a one story house and mounting a 30-foot CB antenna on top, then telling your neighbors that your house is 40 feet tall.
The new World Trade Center, which should show America's will and might, is also just one more example of how far we've fallen compared to the rest of the world.
When the original WTC tower one opened, it was the tallest building in the world.  Prior to that, the Empire State Building had held the record for more than 40 years.  And remember, we built the Empire State Building, the proudest and most impressive building on the planet, in the midst of the Depression, one of the darkest economic times in our nation's history.  In other words, even at or worst, we still built the best.  A lot of the construction at WTC One took place during the middle of the decade, when America was absolutely booming.
The new WTC One, including its antennas, won't even be in the top three among tallest buildings in the world when it's done.  The tallest is the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, at 2,717 feet; followed by the Tokyo Sky Tree in Japan at 2,080 feet; and the Abraj Al Bait Towers in Saudi Arabia at 1,972 feet.  It's ironic and a further embarrassment that two of those three buildings are located in the Middle East, the part of the world where the terrorist attackers were born and raised. 
Then you have the name of the New York building.  Originally it was to be called the "Freedom Tower," a monument and tribute honoring those who died on Sept. 11, 2001, and the spirit of this nation.  In 2009, the name was changed to "One World Trade Center."  The New York Port Authority changed the name "for marketing purposes" claiming that "It's the one that is easiest for people to identify with."  Obviously, that's a lie.  Freedom Tower resonates, while One World Trade Center is a mouthful.  Want an example of how bad the new name is?  When referring to the project, some in the press refer to it as "One World Trade Center" while others in the press call it "World Trade Center One." 
The Port Authority also disputes charges that the name was changed because the largest tenant happens to be Vantone, a Chinese real estate company (which is one more point of shame...America won't even be the biggest occupant of our own tribute building).
Then you have the political and religious issues that are, to some, incomprehensible.  A lawsuit has been filed to stop the inclusion of a cross made of beams from the 9/11 wreckage because the Christian symbol might be offensive.  However, just two blocks from the site where Muslim terrorists crashed passenger-filled jet airplanes into the World Trade Center in 2001, a Muslim mosque is being built.  Arguments could be made on both sides.  In America one of our core tenets is religious freedom, and the mosque is to be built on private land.  We also constitutionally prohibit a government agency like the Port Authority from promoting any particular religion.  But when you juxtapose the mosque and the attempt to ban the cross, the heartbreaking irony is evident.
If we really wanted to pile on the shame, we could also rail about the embarrassment of the fact that it took nearly 10 years to find the attack's mastermind, Osama bin Laden.  Also, after 10 years of fighting in Afghanistan against poorly-armed insurgents, our war there still isn't over.  For comparison we were able to defeat Germany, one of the most powerful and best-equipped military juggernauts in the history of mankind, and recover the body of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, in less than five years.  Again, using 1940's era technology without satellites, computers, and laser-guided weapons.
You want icing on our shame cake?  The organizers of next Sunday's memorial service at Ground Zero have specifically and intentionally excluded the first responders who rushed to the scene of the collapsed buildings on Sept. 11, 2001, claiming there wasn't enough room for them.  They somehow have plenty of room for the speech-giving politicians and celebrities, but not those who actually did something that day.  You know, there wasn't much room for firemen and police officers at the site when the buildings collapsed, but that didn't stop those courageous men and women who flocked to the scene with no regard to their own safety.  We should all be ashamed that those heroes are being shunned.
On Sunday, the U.S. will stop and remember that horrible day, the day that a handful of religious zealots made America tremble.  We can be proud of the way ordinary citizens recovered from that day, how survivors of the tragedy's victims dealt with their grief and continued living their lives as a tribute to the fallen, and how we as a nation came together and stood strong against such a shocking blow. 
But the festivities at Ground Zero?  What should be a display of national pride, perseverance, strength, unity, and leadership will actually be a shameful admission of impotence, incompetence, and a humiliating lack of honor, respect, and loyalty.  Instead of being a defiant show of resilience and respect for the lost, historians will likely judge Sunday's show as just another marker that charts our decline as a world power.
The people of this nation, and especially those innocents who lost their lives that day, deserve better.  Sadly, those we've chosen as our leaders at the city, state, and federal levels, have sold our collective soul and pissed on the memories of those who died.
The construction workers at Ground Zero who have been giving their all to build the Freedom Tower haven't failed us.  It's the designers, politicians, bureaucrats, and other white shirts engaged in petty bickering who have caused the delays.  The police officers, firefighters, and Ground Zero volunteers didn't shirk their duties; the leaders and organizers of this solemn event did.  The soldiers who continue to fight and die in Afghanistan aren't losing the war or dragging it out; that responsibility falls on our political leaders, Republican and Democrat alike.
The citizens of the United States are still among the greatest people on the planet.  Sadly, our government and leadership are not.
It's a travesty that Sunday's ceremony in New York will put that on display for the whole world to see.
In the Middle Eastern lands of our enemies, Muslim extremists will cheer, fire rifles into the air, ululate loudly, and celebrate the fact that America still hasn't recovered and rebuilt from the 2001 terrorist attack. 
Here, we will shed tears, remember the fear, mourn our dead, and express how it's hard to believe it has been 10 years already.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Movin' On

It's probably the right time.
The decision by Stephens Media to not renew my contract last Wednesday comes as our city is at a crossroad, facing a rebirth of sorts.
Thanks to the recent elections, we have a new mayor, and a new majority on the city council. In addition, the city currently has a new police chief, a relatively new fire chief, and has seen the departure of the city manager.
The high school has a new principal, and the middle school will soon have one. The police department has a new media liaison. Last year, the hospital got a new leader.
The Virgin Valley Water District has had a similar housecleaning in the last year with the departure of the general manager (who is facing trial), the chief hydrologist (who was recently released from jail on bond, and is facing more than two dozen charges of bribery and money laundering), their former attorney, a longtime board member, and the board president.
So Mesquite is poised for a fresh start. Maybe that fresh start needed a new editor at Mesquite Local News.
The Stephens Media axe didn't fall on me alone. The Review-Journal also lost Corey Levitan, the outrageous award-winning columnist who once served as "mayor for a day" in Mesquite. I know he's an award winner because Levitan won the "Best Local Columnist" award for daily newspapers from the Nevada Press Association in 2008, the same year I won "Best Local Columnist" for the small weekly division, an award I won again in 2010.
If I'm honest with myself and with you, I think I was ready to go.
For starters, I was tired of the battle.
Not the one with City Hall or the water district, or the ongoing battle of vigilance against corruption in our small town.
I was tired of battling people who were supposed to be my allies.
Before we sold the newspaper to Stephens Media in 2009, my partner Cindi Delaney and I didn't always agree, but we always respected each other. Whenever I decided to poke a stick at one of the big dogs in town like City Hall or one of the casinos, I always knew she had my back. In fact, our little office on Sandhill Boulevard was like a psychological fortress, a place where I felt safe because I was surrounded by dedicated people who believed in our unofficial mission statement: to tell the truth, even if it cost us money.
From the day we sold it, I never felt that again.
Every week, I had to battle with copy editors and supervisors whose approach to news was radically different than mine. It was a constant clash between a Joe Friday insistence on "just the facts, ma'am," and the admonition from three-time Pulitzer Prize winner George Ramos that always rang in my head from the 2007 NPA convention, when he explained that journalists need to tell a story, not just regurgitate data. As an aside, the Ramos philosophy appears to be the core of the burgeoning world of Internet journalism, where lightning fast, fact-filled news is clothed in accurate, enlightening, and engaging storytelling.
Again, maybe this is the right time. Obviously, the philosophy Cindi and I maintained wasn't the right one. If it was, we would have been financially sound and wouldn't have been in a position where we needed to sell the paper to keep it alive when the recession was in full bloom. Our philosophy made for a great newspaper, but not a profitable one.
Large corporations don't operate that way, which is how they get to be large corporations.
So again, the timing is probably right for me to be shown the door.
I've never been an advocate of something called "community newspapering," which is a concept which gained traction among newspaper companies in the early part of this decade. Under that premise, small town newspapers report on meetings and give lots of front page coverage to things like finger painting exhibitions and features on quilters.
I'm so "new school" in presenting the news, with emphasis on Internet journalism and videos and interactive commenting from readers, but I'm old school in my approach to the actual news itself. I believe in hard news, fires and wrecks, investigative journalism, and being unafraid of controversy if it's the truth. In other words, the approach used by newspapers for more than a hundred years.
Personally, I find the term "community newspapering" to be offensive. It is often foisted on smaller newspapers by big city newspapers that have this myopic Mayberry view of small towns. It's almost like they want to insist that rural communities don't have as much corruption, intrigue, drama, or heartbreak as larger municipalities, or that residents of small towns aren't smart enough or sophisticated enough to want, read, and absorb such truths.
I don't want to be a purveyor of fluff.
As I've said many times, you can't fix a problem until you admit that there is a problem. The approach of sweeping corruption and problems in a community under the carpet just to make the town look good is the best way to ensure that the corruption will continue and grow.
But I could be wrong.
On the positive side, I've accomplished just about everything I wanted to accomplish in the five years since Mesquite Local News started.
Mesquite has been one of the very few small towns of its size to have a daily newspaper online.
We currently average more than 200,000 hits a month, a staggering number for a community of our size.
Our newspaper continues to fly off the racks, with a return rate of less than 1 percent.
In four years of being part of the Nevada Press Association, we've won 21 first place awards, including two awards for Best Editorial Writing, two for Best Website, two for Best Local Column, and two for Best Sports Feature. Last year, we won the Best Investigative Story award. And in 2007, our first year with NPA, we won the coveted Freedom of the Press award. We've also received dozens of second and third place awards during that span.
I'm extremely proud of our election coverage this year, particularly the video interviews with the candidates done by Barbara Ellestad, our "Instant Issues" grid that showed where candidates stood on various issues, hard-hitting questionnaires, and even videos from candidate forums. We did everything possible to ensure that voters had plenty of information when they went to the polls.
In the last five years, we've helped expose the corruption at the water district, outed City Hall on their questionable deals and callous treatment of citizens, and been witness to the phoenix-like transformation of a police department once known for its secrecy into a shining example of openness and cooperation with its community.
But the accomplishment for which I'm most proud is our online comments section at the end of each story, the area which some council members derisively and inaccurately refer to as "bloggers."
In my three-year stint at "the other newspaper," I often joked that Mesquite's official bird was the ostrich, because so many people insisted on sticking their head in the sand rather than facing difficult issues.
In the early days of MesquiteLocalNews.com, people were reluctant to get involved or offer their opinions.
Here in 2011, the comments sections of major stories on MLN are robust and filled with thousands of comments. More people in this community are now involved and engaged. They care about what's going on in their town, and have become an active part of the dialogue and process instead of just laying back with an "I don't care" attitude.
It's been fun to watch that evolution, and I sincerely believe this community is better for it.
There are a lot of people I'll miss now that I won't be a part of the day-to-day machinations of Mesquite. And of course, there will be some politicians and bureaucrats I won't miss.
When Mesquite Local News first began online in 2006, we received many supportive comments from people who urged us to start a print edition, something Cindi and I along with founding partner Sue Hurley really didn't want to do. We knew, even back then, that the future of the news industry is online.
With the advent of the iPhone, iPad, and a plethora of new "tablets" hitting the market this year, I believe the demise of the printed newspaper will come even faster in the next decade as advertisers wise up and consumers become more tech-savvy and demanding in the options and speed of their news delivery. A print product that delivers space-limited one-dimensional news as much as nine days after it happened will become as obsolete as the telegraph and the horse and buggy.
Due to the non-compete clause in my contract, I can't be involved in newspaper writing or running a news website in the area for two years.
My life will go on, I'll take on the next writing mountain, and Mesquite will continue without me as I move inexorably toward being "Morris who?" I'll still live here, but I'll be intentionally off the grid for a while, with the exception of my personal website and a couple of blogs I'll be starting.
I'll also continue writing the Workman Chronicles each week, which you can find right here. I love humor writing, and would hope to someday be known as the male Erma Bombeck. Or the southern-accent-less Lewis Grizzard. Or the illegitimate cousin of Dave Barry.
There are so many people I'd like to thank, but this is the point at which the credits would be rolling and people would be leaving the theater, unless you happen to be watching the Oscars.
In a future column, I'll write a big thank-you recognizing as many of those people as I can.
For now, I want to thank you, the reader. Without you, I'd just be another overweight, balding, suspender-wearing lunatic howling at an indifferent moon. I've appreciated your support, your kind words, and even your harsh words when I had it coming. It's not a cheap cliche' to say that I've sincerely done all this for you over the years. I've always believed that you deserved the truth, and I can only hope that I've provided it in a creative, interesting, and entertaining way.
I also hope a few of you will stick around for the journey to come, as I continue to write and try to make you laugh here on this miserable speck of a website.
Thank you for the privilege of serving as your news guy.