When we published our first issue on July 1, 1999, we had a simple business plan. Gannett was making a gazillion dollars with its News Journal. We would raid enough of its ad revenue to entice them to buy us out for $10 million.
We were really that naïve, that stupid.
Pensacola and Escambia County were upbeat back then. The construction business was booming. Tourism was growing every year. Leaders believed the area was on the cusp of a major leap in economic development. Then, the 9/11 tragedy hit. Three years later, Hurricane Ivan struck, followed by hurricanes Dennis and Katrina. As we began to recover from the storms, the BP oil disaster hit our shores. Meanwhile the real estate and lending markets went into tailspins.
This paper fought through all of that, along with our readers. We learned to operate leaner with few resources and worked long hours. During the process, we found our voice and earned national attention for our journalism.
In the early days, few state or national politicians visited our offices. Today we are on most candidates’ itinerary when they visit Northwest Florida. Because of this paper, I have appeared on all the major news networks, plus Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Al Jazeera English, have appeared in five documentaries and was profiled by the New York Times.
We also earned more than our share of enemies. Newsstands were raided, tires slashed and office windows broken. Anonymous letters sent, threats made and blogs created—all to attack, harm and discredit. The rich, powerful and influential did not want to be challenged. They had become accustomed to squashing opposition merely with a phone call. This paper was an enigma to them…it still is.
Through it all, we improved. Living on the razor’s edge made us more in tuned with the community. We listened, investigated and reported. We lived with them through the struggles of the past 15 years and tried to be their advocate, their voice.
Mistakes were made. I pushed too hard sometimes and refused to listen to wise advice, but the mistakes were made out of passion for justice, not personal gain. I could have been more polite and less caustic, more civil and less confrontational. I could have turned away from the fight, rather than running toward it.
Yes, that would have been the safer path for this journey, but would this paper have had the impact that it has had for the past 15 years?
I think not.