Counterpoint – Reflecting on five years at the Current
Five years ago this week, I arrived at the San Antonio Current stoved up after traveling 1,200 miles sandwiched with my husband and cat in an un-air-conditioned Geo Metro. It was risky moving to a city the size of 22 Bloomington, Indianas, and initially I was baffled by a culture that simultaneously embraces sophisticated Mexican art and elevates the turkey leg to iconic status. But I was seeking a challenge and welcomed the opportunity to be nudged from my comfort zone. For the first time in 18 years, I would be an outsider.
When I was promoted to editor in January 2003, I surveyed the local media landscape and found it cluttered with sensationalistic crime coverage, vapid society pages, and corporate-interest sycophants.
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It was also humorless, unless you count KENS anchor Chris Marrou’s attempts to imitate David Letterman. The Current would be none of that. I steered the paper in a populist direction, and viewed our job as to say what others could not, or would not. I envisioned a paper that could be irreverent and cheeky, serious and somber - within the same edition. And as journalists, we would neither dumb down nor talk down, but rather converse with our readers as if chatting over beers at a South Side icehouse.
Over the past five years, I have derived great joy not only from reporting and writing my own stories, but also from leading a crew of talented, ambitious rabblerousers to transform the Current into a credible, relevant, and indispensable publication - one that offers the urgency of a newspaper and the context of a magazine. The staff is small: Julie Barnett, Michael Cary, Nicole Chavez, Gilbert Garcia, Susan Pagani, Elaine Wolff, and I couldn’t field a baseball team. Nonetheless, it has been my foremost obligation to create an atmosphere that enables writers to do their best work. That often means thinking aloud. That often entails laughing until our sides hurt. That often requires me to sing snippets of “Rock ‘n’ Roll Hootchie-Coo” in an annoying falsetto: “Lordy mama, light my fuse!”
All of us sit in one odd, seven-sided room (which must be a surprise to those who called me to complain about someone on staff as if I were unaware of what he or she were up to; I could ding any of them with a paper wad with little effort) and in such a fertile environment, ideas often incubate and spontaneously hatch. For example, last year, our coverage of media-ownership issues won the Connye Miller Prize for Media Reporting from the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies. It is an award I’m especially proud of because it speaks to the value and power of teamwork, of ideas unbridled. The process of conceiving, reporting, writing, editing, and designing those stories was pure alchemy.
So with my five-year anniversary approaching, it is fitting that I leave the Current. As editor, I have accomplished what I set out to do, and now I will contribute to the paper as a freelance writer. Over the past 20 years, the Current has had nearly a dozen editors, and under them the paper has reflected not only the tenor of the times, but the sensibilities of its leaders. The next editor will set his or her own tone, clarify a vision, and take it from here. But the important issue is that in an era of downsizing and mergers, media mistrust, and government propaganda, we desperately need alternative media. A voice in the wilderness to speak truth to power. To poke fun at the self-righteous. To nudge people from their comfort zone. •
By Lisa Sorg