By Joel Phelps
The last time I wrote a regular column, back in my college days when I really wanted to stand out, I nearly lost my real job at a pizza chain for something I had written complaining about the Sunday buffet crowd.
Those were good times, no doubt. I knew people were paying attention to my words, because one column I had written about Texas got so much response that Texan students began flying the Lone Star flag from their dorm windows.
During my time at the Siftings Herald, when my time felt a bit wasted for a gifted writer such as myself, I shared my opinion with a trusted few. I wrote the news about public meetings and so, in order to maintain an unbiased appearance, I kept mum. For the first time in six years, I’m back to delivering news to the people of Clark County. Only this time I’m delivering it to you on a different platform, one with more immediacy than a printed newspaper. News will go out as it happens.
And, for the first time in my 36-year-old life, I’m my own boss. That’s as rewarding as it is scary. I get to be the gatekeeper of what is published on this growing website, and I get to decide what I cover and how I spend my time. On the flip side, I’ve got to be stay on my toes about facts, and I’ve got to inform and entertain an audience that my advertisers can’t ignore. That, for one person, will be the biggest chore. My opinion, you’ll find, isn’t always the popular one. I’ll step on toes. I’ll lose readers, perhaps advertisers. But that’s part of sharing your ideas to the masses.
I’m writing this first column on a plane headed to Washington, D.C., for National Police Week. I was asked by a fellow journalist before boarding if I was an officer in addition to a journalist. I’ll explain that in a future column (short answer: No. Definitely not a cop!).
My devoted readers likely visited my website Tuesday morning to see The Arkadelphian’s top story about a quorum court meeting, and I’m guessing those who clicked on the story gasped when they saw who authored it: none other than Joe May, publisher and editor of The Southern Standard.
It’s been said that you either like Joe’s paper, or Joe’s paper. That’s your choice. Say what you will about Joe May’s right-wing, religious views or my views, which you’ll find in coming months are quite the opposite. And say what you will about The Arkadelphian not being a newspaper where you can find a crossword puzzle.
In my first few weeks of launching, I got wind that Joe May had contracted Covid-19. One Thursday morning I paid my regular visit to a gas station for a copy of The Standard, but it wasn’t there. I reached out to the May family to see if I could help put out their paper, and for the next three weeks — while I was busy, busy, busy trying to build content and market my own business — I helped get The Standard out, whether it was delivering copies to the newsstands, building the pages, writing headlines or writing late at night with Joe at my side talking with a source, his deadline looming.
I’ve covered a few heated meetings in my time as a reporter, and enjoyed some of them. For the most part, it feels like no one pays any mind to local government meetings except those personally attending them.
With my bags half-packed and a pre-dawn flight ahead of me, I hadn’t even planned to attend Monday’s quorum court meeting until a source told me — 15 minutes before it was called to order — that it was going to be “juicy”. So I zipped my luggage and made a dash across town for what I thought would be a quick, heated meeting.
An hour and a half later, when the meeting adjourned, I sat in the courthouse unsure of how the hell I would even muster a lede sentence, let alone make sense of everything that was said. I made eye contact with Joe, who sat in the aisle across and had just stopped scribbling a pad full of notes.
When I told Joe that I was flying out the next morning following this mind-boggling circus of a meeting/public forum, he offered his hand, giving me permission to publish his work. He drove back to Amity and wrote the article days before his print deadline — “I’m going to write this up while I can still read my notes,” he told me before walking into the darkness of the court annex south lawn. By midnight, he had sent me a lengthy article. I awoke just two hours later, rushed out the door for LIT and, as soon as I found a hotspot, posted his work to my website. I’ll admit he did much better than I would have, as I was quite frazzled under the circumstances.
Joe May will be the first to tell you that The Standard and The Arkadelphian are not in competition. And he’s correct, for the most part. Either you want a tangible newspaper or you want your news now. Either way, “the other Joe” has you covered.
What’s important here is that Joe helped Joe, then Joe helped Joe. If Joe needs Joe’s help again, Joe will help Joe. We’re both journalists, and we both have our readers’ best interest at heart. We’re all in this together, whether it be serving on a decision-making panel, running a small business or working at a factory. This is our home, and we’ve got to support each other in good times and bad.
With the Washington Monument now outside my plane window, I’m reminded of what makes this country so great. We’re all in this together.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a national capital to tour.