Thursday, April 22, 2021

Well, here we go.

After more than a year spent planning, falling down and then getting up again, here we are — Knoxville’s newest source for news in our corner of the Appalachians.

Hard Knox Wire is brought to you by a pair of crusty journalists who believe in the power of shoe leather and being the kind of persistent assholes who get the facts “by hook or by crook” (to borrow one of my late father’s favorite sayings).

We’re a website that thinks it’s a newspaper, hopefully blending together the best elements of dailies and weeklies, dedicated to giving you top-notch long-form journalism as well as timely coverage of the most important events.

Hold on. You know what I’m supposed to say next, right?

Here’s where the editor, flush with idealism and lofty goals, swears that this new publication is going to be a fearless seeker of truth, justice and the American Way. “We may look like Clark Kent, but we’re actually Superman,” the editor says. “As journalists, we possess superhuman powers of Objectivity and we are beholden to nothing but the highest of Ethics and the pursuit of Truth.”

Well, I’ve got a question for you. 

In this day and age, would you actually believe a single word of it?

I didn’t think so. 

Which is just fine, because we’re not superheroes. We’re not holy men or ideological monks. We’re reporters, for pity’s sake — scribblers rather than scribes.

But what else are we? What defines us? After all, there’s no shortage of journalists with talent and experience. What qualifies us to form a news organization here and now, in the midst of a faltering economy and civil discord?

Well, first and foremost, we’re a couple of East Tennessee boys, born and raised in and around Knoxville. This is our home. We love it, opiate-drenched warts and all, and we know it like the backs of our hands.

More importantly, you know us. We went to the same fairs, attended the same concerts, and hiked the same trails. We know the difference between real Cosby ‘shine and the swill they sell to the tourists up in Gatlinburg, we know the best spots to take our cousins from California on a snipe hunt, and we believe deep in our hearts that Dolly Parton could solve the world’s problems if we’d just give her a chance. 

Believe it or not, folks, that stuff happens to be important. It all contributes to an intangible yet invaluable resource called institutional memory. It’s the kind of firsthand knowledge of local history that can come only from living through it, and it’s something that’s been slowly fading from our community’s media. 

While I still deeply love and respect the daily newspaper where I was employed for so much of my professional life, the bottom line is that most of the news reporters and columnists who were there 10 years ago have been let go. As talented as the paper’s young pool of writers may be, I can think of only one current reporter who could be said to possess any relevant degree of institutional memory. Given the role that a large daily plays in a community, that’s a tragic loss. 

This is something that we and our friends over at Compass have in droves. I like to think it’s one of the reasons they’ve been so successful, and hopefully it will prove to be the same for us. We remember when Jake Butcher raped our local economy, and we remember when a serial killer dubbed “Zoo Man” haunted the nightmares of working girls in East Knoxville. We recall the jaw-dropping events of “Black Wednesday” and know why the Knox County Medical Examiner’s Office once seemed to have a curse hanging over it. We can’t forget the traumatic lessons we learned from names like Kassi Trimmier and Brittany Daniels, or how names like Ellen Turner and Helen Ashe could inspire us all.

Cliff, my partner in this venture, is a former U.S. Army Ranger, six-string guitar guru and self-described “mountain man.” A Maryville native, he sums up how he got into journalism in the simplest terms: “I love to write and got paid doing what I love.”

My background is a little more urban. Back in the day, I was a head-banging juvenile delinquent, “Fort Rat” and bar brawler who ended up seeing most of his closest friends come to heartbreaking ends. I was ultimately spared that type of fate because it turned out that my most overwhelming addiction was to books, and I desperately wanted to write about everything I’d seen and everyone I’d known.

That’s who we are and where we’re from. The next question is, why do we want to stay in a business that’s turned ugly over the past decades, a profession that’s downsized itself to the point of impotence while the general public seems to hold it in growing contempt?

Because journalism — especially quality, independent journalism — is more important than ever. It’s absolutely essential to the survival of this Republic that we hold dear. After all, the “Freedom of the Press” that was so vital to our Founding Fathers doesn’t mean very much if there’s no Press, does it?

Cliff and I have been doing journalism on a professional basis for long enough to know that we’re good at it. Also, like most reporters who care about the scandals and horrors they regularly report on, we don’t fully trust anyone else to do it.

Hard Knox Wire is a tiny company, with exactly two employees. That means we have limited resources. We don’t have 10 reporters and photographers to call upon. It’s just us, which means we’re going to focus on giving you one or two feature stories each weekday, plus coverage of select breaking news events.

The good news is there are no advertisers or corporate headquarters to pressure us to distort the news in any way. Our only source of income is you, the reader, and I’m sure you’ll let us know when we get something right or wrong. Let us know what issues or events you want us to cover. Let us know when we haven’t asked all the questions that you want to have answered. I assure you that we’ll listen.

I can’t promise that we’re always going to be perfect or never make mistakes. But I can promise that we’ll always do our best, and that we’ll fix our errors. 

I can’t promise that we’re going to be completely neutral on every issue. But I can promise that neither of us belongs to either political party and, even if we did, we’re far too oppositional-defiant to ever let someone force an agenda on us. 

Finally, I won’t promise that we’ll be objective because I don’t believe that objectivity is an ideal that we frail and mortal beings can aspire to. But I can — and do — promise that our reporting will be driven by facts, not politics. 

Most important of all, we will strive to be fair and balanced. 

I’ve already borrowed one quote from my late father who, when he got home in the evening and finally had a drink or two under his belt, would transform into a full-fledged Machiavellian guru who cynically preached accommodation with the darkest aspects of life, the universe and everything.

I didn’t listen to him most of the time, for good or ill. Every now and then, however, he’d say something that would shut up even my teenage mouth and remains in my memory long after the sound of his voice has forever faded away.

“Son, there’s at least three sides to every story,” he would say, his voice slurred and eyes shrouded in shadow. “Yours, mine, and the cold, hard, bloody truth. And none of us is ever, ever, all the way in the right.”

I didn’t agree with the Old Man about most things, but I think if we can keep those words in mind we’ll do just fine. 
Published February 28, 2021