"Alternative newsweeklies," the industry calls free papers like this one, and many of them started back in the era of hallucinogens and VW vans, when some Vietnam-protesting college kid corralled a few buddies to start an underground newsletter. Those guys wanted to wrest power from the establishment media. They wanted to write about rock and roll. They wanted to change the world.
The Press wasn't like that. The Press's birth was... well, more Houston. More '80s.
We weren't aiming to overthrow the capitalist pigs; we were the capitalist pigs. The paper's first owner was a real estate guy, one of the few with money to throw around after the oil bust. At our first full-blown staff meeting, the publisher proclaimed that we'd break even within a year, that we'd sell as many ads as those other alternative papers whose hippie owners were getting rich. Good journalism was part of the business plan.
I was young and idealistic (why else work as an editorial peon?). But even I wasn't surprised when that business plan didn't work. We didn't break even, and the start-up money ran out. We limped along, bringing pens from home, paying freelancers months after the checks were due, using computers whose factory ID numbers had been sanded off. (I didn't ask. I didn't want to know.) We stopped running the air conditioner on weekends. I hung a thermometer over my desk to measure precisely how hot a black glass building could get. My boss put a Styrofoam chest full of ice between himself and a fan.
For a while, I told the stories to my friends: There was the day the editor in chief and star political reporter had to deliver the papers; there was the night the layout guy kicked a hole in the wall; there were more threats of lawsuits than I could keep track of. My friends started asking why I didn't get a real job. I stopped telling the stories.
To me, the saving grace was this: Most weeks, even at the Press's worst, something in the paper was worth reading. An investigative feature, maybe, or a bit of political gossip, or a restaurant review. Something that made me mad, or made me laugh, or helped me understand the city around me.
The Press has since had other publishers, other editors, other owners. I left it once during a bad patch, when the business plan didn't seem to include journalism anymore. (The new publisher proposed that we send political reporter Tim Fleck to cover the rodeo trail ride, and that we do a cover story on the rubber-duck races in the bayou.) While I was away, the paper was sold to its current owner, the New Times, Inc., a chain of alternative newsweeklies. Journalism returned to the business plan, and finally we became competent at capitalist piggery. We've grown from one full-time writer to ten. We run the a/c on weekends. Sometimes, when I'm feeling low, I open the office-supply cabinet just to look at all those pens.
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Still, I think, the saving grace remains the same. Most weeks, something in the paper is worth reading.
But enough about us.
For this anniversary issue, we considered regurgitating our greatest hits. But that seemed self-serving and dull; you've read those stories already. We indulge our nostalgia only a bit, in my ramblings up above, and in the quotes that adorn the bottoms of these pages.
Instead, we asked our writers to do what they usually do: try to make sense of the time and the place in which we live. For this issue, they look not at the Houston of this week, but at the Houston of this decade. They write about Compaq and No tsu oH, about Lyle Lovett and Allen Parkway Village, about Ida Lee Delaney and Pedro Oregon. They note that Tejano is dying, that espresso now rules the drive-thru. They describe the landmarks in our lives: the people we've known, the places we've been, the things we've shared.
-- Lisa Gray