Those who have followed this column know that one word has been dominant: context.
Too often events are shared as singular occurrences, leaving the impression that there is no ability to learn from previous experiences, consequences or achievements. The saying that history repeats itself is true.
Years ahead there is hope that journalists at this newspaper and readers of the content written by these journalists — regardless of how it is accessed — will remember the lessons from the Times Free Press newsroom during its first decade.
By looking back, there may be an opportunity to realize that the wheel did not need to be reinvented, or better yet, to share with those readers the community connection from earlier years.
On the list of firsts for the Times Free Press are these experiences.
The first extra edition of the newspaper — not Sept. 11, 2001, but Election Day in November 2000.
As the votes were counted across the nation on Nov. 7, the outcome remained in the balance as time drew short to meet the press deadline. Having extended the start time by almost two hours, editors had to decide on the lead headline on the front page. We missed it based on an incorrect call of one state’s popular vote. Another edition was published that moved from “Bush wins” to “too close to call.” Weeks later, Bush was declared the winner, on Dec. 14, 2000, becoming the fourth president to win a majority of electoral votes but not a majority of popular votes.
Sept. 11, 2001, when two airplanes struck the Twin Towers in New York, a midday edition was published with some 2,000 copies distributed in the downtown area. “Struck at Home,” the headline declared and the photos clearly displayed.
The first Tennessee newspaper to embed a reporter with area National Guard troops assigned to Iraq was the Times Free Press.
Journalists were asked to volunteer if they were interested in the six-month assignment; more than a dozen raised their hands.
But there were a few internal rules of engagement.
First, an understanding that once the reporter was sent, the return would be in six months. Christmas would be spent with the troops.
Next, even though every volunteer was of legal age, they were required to share with their parents the choice to
volunteer and the likelihood they would be entering a war zone. A few balked at this point.
Finally, the journalistic hurdle: Since the reporter would be working remotely without the support system of editors in a newsroom, a multi-week story plan was requested.
This was not a vacation; this was real work in a difficult situation.
When the time came for a decision, two questions required an answer by your writer: Would you go, and could you handle the situation if something unfortunate happened to the reporter while on assignment in Iraq?
The decision to send Lee Pitts to Iraq with the 278th was the answer.
Experiences assist in our learning either the next day or years later.
Expect no less from those who share daily the events that shape the community.
To reach Tom Griscom, call 423-757-6472 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.