It may come as no surprise that a key frame from the Samuel Fuller love-letter to American journalism, Park Row, is my current smartphone wallpaper. The frame in question is the moment our hero, Phinneas Mitchell, agrees to start a rival alternative newspaper with a ragtag group of late 1800s reporters and printers. This group faces the attacks from their opposition with guts, grit, and passion, spilling blood and ink all over their own bylines. It’s a wonderful movie (now on Amazon Prime free for members) that plays to the romantic nature of the press – warts and all. I reference this movie and my affection for it because, from time to time, it’s best to be reminded of why we do what we do.
Personally, I take no offense to The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate running that Eddie Rispone ad recently. You know, the one where he announced to the world just how much he supports GOP gameplay, institutional racism, and wealthy/old/slothful/hateful/balding white men. It was certainly within their right and their new directive from owner and past political candidate John Georges, to run that piece in print, a right that I wouldn’t take away from any paper. I wouldn’t have done it, Big Easy Magazine wouldn’t have done it, but again – no personal issue taken. After all, it was merely giving someone a platform from which to shout or, rather, giving (or selling) someone the very noose that’ll break their neck.
Early on in our publication’s first days, I worked on an interview where I tried my best to pull out of my subject, a certain member of the Confederate Monument Relocation Committee, detailed reasoning and explanations for their stances and (lost) cause. The final article was, unfortunately, highly compromised by the demands of the subject and our own insecurities and naivete. We made the choice of pulling the article immediately and posting up an editorial in its place – a move that I wasn’t too keen on at first, but have since come around on. Maybe with some better wording in the opening paragraphs, and maybe with additional hard-hitting questions, the piece would live on. But, no matter the quality of writing or the clarity of the thesis, it still would’ve been something we shouldn’t and wouldn’t now have published.
Because Big Easy Magazine, in its second year of publication, has learned strength in conviction, has learned confidence in vision, and is still learning how to speak truth to power. The manner that The Times-Picayune/New Orleans Advocate published that ad from Gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone was not without some philosophical charm, which I find amusing. However, remembering the ads that pre-President Trump had placed in New York papers (like the one against the “Central Park Five”) and how disgusting they were for all parties involved, I can’t completely get behind such a decision or transaction.
Still, you know what’s great about our freedom of the press? That we can counter such ads. That we can write and investigate and articulate to present the alternative or even right and righteous position needed for contextual purposes. Are there two sides to every story? Sometimes. There can also be just one or many others. We may deal with type and printed words, or keystrokes and bandwidth, but nothing is so rigid and permanent that it can’t be static. That it can’t be criticized or called out. That it can’t be questioned.
In Park Row, the staff of the newly formed “The Globe” stirs the pot right out the gate, and keeps the pressure on to the point that the Statue of Liberty itself is willed into existence by their reporting efforts. It’s quite the transition, actually, one that still brings chills up and down my spine. Lady Liberty means all sorts of things to all sorts of Americans and immigrants alike, but the one notion about her that we all share (collectively, begrudgingly, or individually) is that we all deserve to and should speak or write truth to power. To be critical in all times.
The ink may be thick, but your head shouldn’t be.
Bill Arceneaux has been an independent writer, journalist, and film critic in the New Orleans area since 2011, working with outlets like Film Threat, DIG Baton Rouge, Crosstown Conversations, and Occupy. He is a member of the Southeastern Film Critics Association and is Rotten Tomatoes approved. Follow him on Twitter: @billreviews