Pensacola, Florida
Sunday September 23rd 2018

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Outtakes—Nothing Neutral Here

By Rick Outzen

Inweekly quietly celebrated a milestone on Sunday, July 1. Nineteen years ago, we published our first edition of this newspaper. The cover story was “A Sign of Our Times?” with the subtitle, “Surf, Sand but No Suds.”

The article, by Lindsey Kelly, covered the debate over whether or not alcohol should be banned on Pensacola Beach. Kelly interviewed Santa Rosa Island Authority board member George Eckes, Dock manager Nick Zangari and restaurant owner Chan Cox. Today, the SRIA and the Escambia Board of County Commissioners are still debating the issue.

Over the weekend, I reread the issue and realized how much we have changed since the summer of 1999. Our original editorial position was that we would be neutral on political issues and not endorse political candidates. We had several columns but no editorial piece for the newspaper.

Obviously, that is not our position 19 years later. What changed?

The pivotal moment was Hurricane Ivan. I awoke after the storm passed without food, water, electricity or a roof, as did most of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Three-fourths of our customers were shut down for months. I had to decide to fight or quit. Editorial neutrality was no longer an option.

We fought for this community, challenging insurance companies that balked on paying claims, ECUA to move its downtown sewage plant and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office after a series of jail deaths. My Outtakes column became more outspoken. We pushed hard for change and earned our fair share of political enemies. We survived slashed tires, smashed windows and too many threats to count.

Realizing that local officials weren’t going to change their ways, we began endorsing candidates that we hoped would improve this community. When the Community Maritime Park concept was first introduced, we were the first medium to wholeheartedly endorse it because we believed it would change the face of downtown Pensacola, which it has.

When the Deepwater Horizon platform exploded in April 2010, we didn’t hesitant in how we covered the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. We repeatedly caught BP in misstatements and exposed them, which earned the newspaper international attention. We lobbied our local officials to not concede to the pressure to issue statements that everything was fine. Our coverage made sure Escambia County was included in the $20-billion settlement.

We have continued to fight for justice. We called for reform at the county jail after it experienced six deaths over a 13-month period. We asked that residents in the Tanyard be treated with the same respect as those living on Bayou Texar. We pointed out the alarming number of traffic deaths on West Cervantes Street.

We aren’t neutral, and I’m proud of our legacy.