By SKIP TUCKER, Alabama Daily News Featured Columnist
Of all the things in this world that have learned to move like grace itself within time and space, news keeps pace. As time stretched, as did civilization, delivery of news gained importance, became paramount.
The first news reporter of note was Philippos. At 40, he ran 150 miles in two days, to and from the fennel fields of Marathon, for Rome’s anxious leaders. He finished with a 25-mile sprint to whisper “Joy to you, we conquer.” With his dying breath. Good news, even if it killed the messenger. Such it was in 490 BC. So, too often, it is today.
Old news isn’t news, by definition. Speed is the need. The California gold discovery occurred in 1848. It took 18 months for the news to reach the east. In 1860, the Pony Express delivered mail and news from St. Joseph, Mo. to Sacramento, Ca. in 10 days.
Yesterday, I muttered imprecations because it took two minutes for my Internet to connect me to the rest of the world.
The Pony Express lasted just 18 months before telegraph lines connected east to west and the eternal, short-lived Pony Express fell away. Change is the unchanging immutable way of all things.
News, too, is perpetual, eh. The guardian and mentor of those tasked with its delivery in these parts is the Alabama Press Association, founded 1871. I’ve been a member since I walked into the Mountain Eagle newsroom in Jasper in 1972, exactly 100 years since the Eagle was established.
I could tell you stories. In fact, I will.
The APA was loosely organized – in fact, foundering – until a guy named Steve Bradley took over as director in 1974. My publisher and friend Shelton Prince could spot a drowning. He hired Bradley, who had little idea of the turmoil.
“I was working for Shell Oil in Texas,” he said. Shell itself is a well-oiled machine. “I was interviewed and hired at a hotel in Tuscaloosa. The APA office had been provided by the University of Alabama but I wasn’t fully aware that an internal squabble had caused it to be moved to a rickety office next to a railroad by what came to be Mack’s Bait Shop. Nearly every time a train rumbled by, pictures of past presidents fell off the wall.”
He sensed that something might be amiss.
“The building was a little different from the Shell Oil building. When I arrived, I discovered that operating expenses were $4,000 per month, which meant we needed $24,000 to cover the final six months of 1974 and but $12,000 in the bank with next year’s dues not scheduled to be billed until January.
“My first need was to get the association solvent. We did it in several ways. We increased dues, got several papers to pay dues early and restructured the two yearly conventions to be money makers instead of the money losers they had been.”
With the new fee structure in place, there were four years of blissful solvency before Bradley moved. He’s now Bradley and Associates in Birmingham. Before he left, he did APA a final favor. He recruited Bill O’Connor, who took over in 1978. He, too, served four years.
Here’s the excellent O’Connor, who served a stint as president of the Business Council of Alabama and who is now director of the Alabama Nursing Home Association.
“What comes to mind the most for me is putting APA on really firm financial footing,” he said. “We maintained a solid fee structure but our windfall was the 1978 gubernatorial campaign. APA places political advertising. In 1978, we placed a million dollars, most coming from the campaigns of Albert Brewer, Bill Baxley and Fob James, who got elected “
Also, O’Connor settled something within APA that had become disputatious. Its prestigious but annual Better Newspapers Contest has become incestuous. The newspaper that won an award selected next year’s winner. As papers began to consolidate, an award went most often to another paper within the fold.
O’Connor instituted a swap system with press associations in neighboring states. They’d judge Alabama’s entries and vice versa. Prince and I formed the notion so OC included us in the judging in Kentucky.
We found that Alabama, arguably (perhaps), has better newspapers than Kentucky, by far. Most all other states, too.
Prince judged the General Excellence category, the star lode. Never one to shrink, Prince announced to the twin meeting that he couldn’t find a Kentucky paper worthy of the General Excellence award. He gave a second place. There was some muttering.
One Kentucky Gentleman that night did a wonderful thing. Free liquor to a convention full of newsfolk is like, well, free liquor. No bottle was left standing. Neither was one of the Kentucky publishers. I watched in envy as he swaggered around. I saw him trip over his own feet. He must’ve fallen for ten seconds and thirty yards. He looked like a failed Olympic ice skater. Triple twirl. Double Salchow, then a full face to the floor. He didn’t even get his hands out to break his fall, but I figured he broke everything else. It was a 9.5, easy, even from the Russian judge. I thought he might be dead. I nudged Prince and we were first to him. Prince rolled him over to his back.
“Partner, you all right?” said Prince.
On his back, the man said, distinctly and with dignity, “I think I might be getting me a light buzz.”
The Alabama Press Association is the state trade association of daily and weekly newspapers in Alabama. Its active membership includes 24 daily newspapers and 99 non-daily newspapers. There are more than 100 associate members representing newspaper vendors, colleges and universities and other organizations allied to the newspaper industry.
It held its distinguished awards convention June 28-29 in Orange Beach, a most venerable affair. Here’s a toast to the award winners and to all Alabama’s newspapers and the Alabama Press Association, which continues to roll like thunder.
(Next week: Newspapers Remain Masters of Time, Space.)
Skip Tucker was editor of the Daily Mountain Eagle in Jasper, then communications secretary for gubernatorial folks like George McMillan, Charlie Graddick and Jim Folsom. He ran Alabama Voters Against Lawsuit Abuse for in Montgomery for 15 years. He has published one novel, Pale Blue Light, a spy thriller set in The Civil War. He’s now a regular contributor for the Alabama Daily News at www.ALDailyNews.com.