My darlings, I am shortly to leave you!
These years I’ve run The Planet will always be four of my faves, and I have no regrets, but I am closing up shop shortly after the primary election next week. There’s no fast-and-hard date—I want to finish at least one feature I’ve had to keep pushing to the back burner for months now, and there may also be one or two more of the fluffy little columns I most enjoy writing, and have regretted most keenly not having time for. The Planet will not come crashing out of orbit on June 10. I will not publish new articles, but the site itself is paid up through next spring. So though I have no plan so far for preserving the archives after that, for now you can read any of the back pieces you have need of.
I think that has some worth over and above the desire, engendered by my natural human vanity, to have my work endure. The Planet has had its share of detractors since it first appeared at the center of the universe in February 2016, but the only insult that made me mad enough to bite back came just last week from a guy who commented on the newspaper’s Facebook page that “The Dade Planet is not known for investigative reporting.” The hell it’s not!
I regret having lost my temper, but I would like to ask, please, who in Dade County ever did any investigating reporting besides The Planet? Through these years, I’ve done exhaustive, more-than-you-can-eat investigative pieces on the Dade reservoir project, chromium-6 poisoning of the groundwater, sewers, the history of booze in the county, the Preserve at Rising Fawn and God knows what else. While I was angrily sending my detractor a link to the investigative article category of The Planet, I realized I hadn’t tagged all the pieces properly so they’d show up there, and I’m damned if I’ll sit here sifting through archives now to correct that. But try Googling any issue that’s come up since 2016 around Dade and I will take any bet you like that the best information you’re fixin’ to find will come from a weird little cyber-rag strutting its stuff as “news and views from the center of the universe.”
Sorry to get huffy. A girl has her pride! I have never made a financial success of The Dade Planet but I do feel it’s excelled in other ways, and those are the ones that matter to the likes of me.
Anyhoo, I’m not quitting because I’m mad at anybody, though God knows the meanie last week was not exactly Exhibit A. There’s been plenty of aggro! But I will not dig up more examples. When you run (for reasons you no longer remember) an independent newspaper, the rewards are scant enough that you suck all the juice you can get out of each one, and the bitch-slaps numerous enough that you do not by God go back looking for more.
That’s the thing about this independent-newspaper life—you get seriously good at that kind of optimism. The Mark Twain quote about living two weeks on a compliment became my Philosophy of Life. Really I’ve gotten to where I can suck a compliment out of an insult. I know I’ve told this story before but once when I was covering a court case (and here I gotta add, what other Dade media outlet covers court cases?) a lawyer responded to my nosy question: “You’ve got a lot of nerve.” He said it not unkindly and he did answer my question; but just the comment itself has made me happy ever since. I have always wanted to be somebody with a lot of nerve! That was the late great Chris Townley and I still remember him with a gush of affection.
Similarly, during a period several years ago when people were bashing me and my newspaper on Facebook and one wrote, “What I hate is the way her personality comes out in everything she writes,” I thought: I got a personality?
Ha! And I started life as a glass-half-empty type.
What I told my insulter last week is that if he felt he wasn’t getting his money’s worth out of The Planet, he should read some newspaper that gave him a better deal. I guess, though, it’s just human nature to complain, even or maybe especially about stuff you get free. It used to amuse me that when that guy Kent Wallace who briefly ran The Trenton Daily News would not only pay a young person to videotape public meetings, not only make the video available online for free, but then also put a post on Facebook to make it easy to find, people would bitch about the audio quality.
Since we’re having this little talk I might as well answer a question I keep getting asked about that: No, I don’t know what happened to Kent Wallace and his newspaper. Despite the coincidence of the last names and the fact we both ran local online newspapers, there was no connection between us and I’d never met him before he started showing up at public meetings I was covering. My married name is
Wallace but my Mr. Wallace is the artist Jerry Wallace, who helped me put together ads and has been responsible for The Planet’s stylish look and the occasional great editorial cartoon. Not to mention for supporting us while I frittered away my working hours on a newspaper that never quite broke even!
Money’s not why I’m quitting, either, though I will take this opportunity to complain that it has been the most irritating part of running the newspaper. I never got any better at shaking people down for ads or donations and I never got to hate it any less. My purpose in launching the newspaper was not to get rich but I did hope to earn some sort of minimal living out of it. Didn't happen.
But it doesn't matter now. There were people who made me angry by not paying what they owed for ads, and I was certainly disappointed last time I did a fundraising plea not to get any donations at all. In the end, though, I realized I was just so bad at money it would be pointless to be mad at anybody else over it, or even unhappy about it myself. As a girl growing up in the South, I was raised to think of money as vulgar and vaguely embarrassing; as a high-minded young lady, the root of all evil; and as a jaded not-so-young lady, a seriously stupid way to run the world. I reckon anyway I am allergic to the stuff or it to me and I no longer give a good goddam. I didn’t mean to run the rag as a public service but that’s how it turned out.
Another problem that has hounded me has been technology. I'm not particularly IT-savvy and could never afford to pay anybody who was. Many thanks go to Katie Kasch Bien, BTW, for gifting me the design for the original website. It worked great at first. But as the web host changed its product, my ads started migrating unaccountably around the page so that I lost what nerve I had to sell them, and tech support shook their heads sadly and told me they no longer supported that format.
But I don't want to waste time shakin' my tiny fist at cruel misfortune here and anyhow that's not why I'm packing it in, either. What it boils down to is I’ve got only so much time on earth and only so much writing left in me, and I’ve got another big project I need to finish before I bite the dust.
I did try dividing up the week between The Planet and the other project but it didn’t work for me. I guess I’m just not much of a multitasker. You read about these superwomen who are raising families of five while they work full-time and finish graduate school, and they manage to write their best-selling novels in the dentist’s waiting room or while they’re on hold on the telephone. I always want to shove them into mud puddles. Anyway, this is me, who is to underachieving what Shakespeare was to literature. I can only do what I can do and I am now fixin’ to go off and do it.
I do reserve the right to come back. The Planet may rise again! If it does, though, I think it will be in a different format. I really love local government. It's where democracy is purest and most direct and where we can all make a difference. But it's at the state level that things have now started getting my righteous indignation juices pumping. It was last June, when Tennessee started to arrest and prosecute poor Alabama and Georgia mamas for stealing health care for their babies (by trying to enroll them in Tennessee Medicare), that my moral outrage gland began to tingle. Then, listening to the debates in May for Georgia senator and house rep, it commenced to sputter and spew and it hasn't stopped yet.
We live in an impoverished section of the country where people turn by the boatload to meth for the simple lack of anything nicer in their lives. We live in a place where parents are arrested for trying to get health care for their babies. There are 30 or 40 kids in Dade alone in state care because their parents are in jail, on drugs or boffing them. We have at the state level a reverse-Robin-Hood economic development system that takes money from the taxpayers and gives it to corporations with plenty of money, and at the county level an economic development system that takes taxpayer money and does nothing with it at all, if you don't count providing salary and benefits for a useless and evil sycophant who otherwise would have to go back to his day job of menacing single mothers and handicapped kids.
And we have three state rep candidates and three state senate candidates presenting as practically their sole qualifications to represent this area their holy zeal to keep women in Atlanta from getting abortions and their windy opposition to nonexistent threats to gun rights? And we have, furthermore, voters nodding solemnly as if this made any kind of god damn sense?
I was going to affix to this column my fiery diatribe on this point in the grand old tradition of parting shots and burning boats, but I thought things were getting a bit long and anyway I didn't want to spoil my cheerful goodbye with ary old bubbling bile. Look for that in Part 2 of this piece. Meanwhile, I'll finish the thought I started a couple of paragraphs ago: If The Planet comse back, it will most likely leave county politics alone and look for bigger butts to bite.
I'll bite a couple in Part II, too, but for now, let's have less biting, less barking and more fond waggings of the tail. I really have had a grand time! One of the things I always said to be funny is that those who disagreed with me should start their own newspaper, because: "It's easy and fun!" That's an exaggeration--it wasn't particularly easy but it was always a blast. I loved being the Local Press!
I hope you've enjoyed yourself, too. Thanks for reading, special thanks to those over the years who have bought ads or contributed, and extra-special thanks to two faithful donors, Henry "Russ" Campbell and a mysterious individual known only as "Frodoshop," both of whom made regular monthly donations. That was above and beyond. You can stop now, please, but be assured it was you guys who kept me going!
Thanks, too, to the faithful professionalism of Ann Bartlett, the master gardener who has been writing The Planet's gardening column practically since there's been a Planet. The Planet may not have ever had much else but it had the best artist and the best garden writer ever!
Well, I was never good at endings, and it's not quite apt because Part 2 is on its way, so are a few other articles, and I do intend to cover the election; but I reckon the word I am looking for here is:
--Robin Ford Wallace