The best of 2017
In this week’s Around the Water Cooler column, the newsroom staff shares favorite personal events and memories from 2017.
Working with great staff
I have read that to be a reporter one must know a little bit about a lot of things, but not a whole lot about anything. If that’s the case, then The Tullahoma News newsroom staff has it covered. With viewpoints on everything from national politics to college football, we are never hesitant to share an opinion or offer advice – solicited or not.
It’s not always easy to report the news, but our staff does that every day. A journalist’s job is to gather news and information to keep the public informed about events that are important to the community. Oftentimes, those events are disturbing to report, and equally disturbing to read. And in today’s social media world, folks are more than willing to harshly voice their displeasure in the quasi-anonymous world of Facebook, Twitter and email.
The staff captured 14 state awards, including first-place awards in sports photography, feature writing and personal humor column; a second-place award in editorial writing, in investigative reporting and for our website; third-place awards for breaking news coverage and public service; fourth-place awards in news reporting, business, sports coverage and lifestyles; and a fifth-place award in local features.
Since 2015, The News has captured 36 TPA awards, with hundreds of awards won over the past several years. And this is no accident. These justly-deserved awards recognize the dedication that local print journalists continue to exhibit, in spite of staff cuts and a shrinking page count.
So, I am sending my thanks to my fellow newsroom staffers for helping making 2017 a year to remember – Betty Dement, Wayne Thomas, Kelly Lapczynski, Elena Cawley, Kali Bradford, Erin McCullough, Andrea Agardy, Zach Birdsong and Cameron Adams.
TPA award for best feature
It’s almost impossible to pick one single thing that I would consider “the best.” After some consideration I’m choosing my first-place win for Best Single Feature at the 2017 Tennessee Press Association awards.
I won for a story I wrote about a local man who was involved in an accident and almost died, but for the help of a good Samaritan. I told the story of how he was injured, how the good Samaritan stepped into help, how that help lead him to surviving the crash and, finally, a unique friendship that was formed as a result.
To be honest, the story was hard to tell. I have known the man who was injured since childhood and it was hard to see him go through such an ordeal, much less write about it. But we felt it was important to tell his story and her act of bravery and kindness.
When my editor suggested I submit it to the contest, I did so with the hopes that someone might see and feel what I had in writing the story. Long story short, they did. While shocked, I was grateful and honored for a group of editors to think as much of my story as I did.
As a writer, these are rare moments – moments when you truly feel proud of yourself and of what you’ve written. So I was thankful for that one evening when I could sit back for just a moment and be proud of my labors and proud that we shared my friend’s story in a way that brought him and his guardian angel the honor they deserved.
A great year of podcasts
Listening to podcasts has been the savior of my year. Harkening back to the days of radio shows, podcasts have become a viral sensation over the last few years, and there are a few I’ve fallen in love with this year.
The first I have to mention is “Dear Hank and John,” in which brothers Hank and John Green answer questions from listeners, give dubious advice and bring you all the latest news from Mars and AFC Wimbledon.
They give life, love and education advice in a realistic yet humorous way, and keep me abreast of what’s happening in Mars exploration and an English football club I don’t know much about.
Secondly, “The West Wing Weekly,” hosted by composer Hrishikesh Hirway and actor Joshua Malina (who was on TWW for four seasons). As a gigantic “West Wing” nerd, this allows me to watch the show again without actually watching it and learn some behind-the-scenes information I wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Finally, we have the “WellRED” comedy podcast. Hosted by comedians Corey Ryan Forrester, Drew Morgan and Trae Crowder (the “Liberal Redneck” himself), this podcast is the perfect blend of politics, comedy and goofing off. The pod routinely sees the guys interviewing their favorite songwriters and artists, including Paul Janeway (of Saint Paul and The Broken Bones), or their fellow comedians, such as Ms. Pat and George Wallace, lending toward an interesting history on stand-up comedy and life in general.
They also make fart jokes and talk about beer and guns and stuff, too, which is always funny.
I highly recommend all these podcasts, although I do want to give an explicit content warning on the “wellRED” boys. They curse, y’all. Beware.
A brother and bowling
Like any year, 2017 was a mixed bag. The lows, for me, included the loss of two beloved pets, home repairs that obliterated any hope of sticking to a budget and my complete failure to win the lottery despite not buying a ticket. The highs included a total solar eclipse, six state press awards in as many categories and a midyear return to the Nashville stage to perform a show recently named one of the Tennessee theatre season’s Top 10 of 2017.
Metaphorically, for nearly every vacation plan foiled by the rains of hurricane season, there was a double rainbow at the end of an ocean pier. But the best thing the year had to offer me was a new commitment to spending time with my brother.
Jake is not quite five years my junior, but the age difference has always been just enough to separate us. When he was in high school, I was away at college and holding down two jobs in radio. When he married and started a family, I was living in Nashville or San Diego, traveling to perform on any stage that offered paid acting work and only visiting home on the holidays. Our differing schedules and obligations rarely aligned, even after I returned to Tennessee and a more regular routine.
But sometime around August, my brother sent me a series of unusual gifts not tied to any occasion. A zippered bag, a pair of unusual shoes, and – the item that united them – a bowling ball. Despite my being the undisputed worst bowler to ever roll a ball, he’d signed us up for 15 weeks of league bowling. In that time, I never improved (Lord knows, I tried everything!) and my massive handicap wasn’t enough to prevent utter embarrassment in the standings. But we had fun. Together. For me, that was the best thing 2017 had to offer. And I plan to continue to embarrass myself well into 2018 for the privilege.
A visit home
I loved going back home to Bulgaria. I found this old country and its people renewed and flourishing.
Over the last years, Bulgarians have improved their lives through embracing diversity, honoring the past and building a future based on inclusion.
Bulgaria is in Eastern Europe, and though it has been roughed up numerous times, has always found a way to dignity and overcoming troubles.
Though officially known as Bulgaria since seventh century, its people’s past goes back to 3,000 BC. The people living there have seen numerous foreign occupations, by Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Bulgarians have also survived a harsh communist state.
Each domination has brought new historical treasures. But each occupying power has also attempted to erase the past, destroying buildings, books and art pieces.
Bulgarians, today, try to restore what has been lost, honoring different cultures to bring everyone together. They have revived monuments, giving credit to all who contributed to creating them.
A church in Kyustendil, built in 10th century, has been reduced to ruins and its frescos have been covered by new rulers several times. Now, the medieval church has been restored, and the guides show the four layers of uncovered mural paintings, giving recognition to each era and artist.
With the fall of communism, many of its creations, even those loved by people, were destroyed. In 1979, a railroad and a train for children was constructed in one of the parks in Plovdiv. In the 1990s, the railroad was neglected and lied in ruins for 20 years. However, the attraction has been reopen since 2007.
Seeing the train restored and experiencing the ride with my sons was the best feeling.
In a world where we see negativity and division too often, I hope we can learn to embrace diversity and acknowledge the strengths of those different from us, too.
Bursting with pride at niece’s graduation
As I started thinking about this column, I quickly realized that despite all the apprehension and frustration of 2017, there was also an awful lot of good.
I found an incredibly sweet and adorably nerdy fella this year — a guy who gets me and finds my snark charming. I’ve made some new friends and existing friendships deepened. And the list goes on.
But my favorite moment of 2017 came on Dec. 16, when I went to MTSU for the graduation of Deven Cushing, my eldest niece.
I didn’t need to see Dev’s name listed under summa cum laude graduates to know she’s smart as a whip. She’s been proving that every day since she was old enough talk. I went into her graduation day expecting to be proud of the kid, while poking fun at my sister for ruining her mascara.
But something came over me as we sat in the Murphy Center. Before the graduates made their entrance, I found myself crying, thinking about all that led up to this day. She may be only 21, but Dev has already endured more than her fair share of heartbreak. But never has this brilliant and beautiful young woman let any of that stand in her way. If anything, it’s made her all the more resilient and determined.
Personality wise, Dev more closely resembles me than her mother. In fact, my sister often jokes that she gave birth to my kid. As I sat and watched Deven receive her diploma, a strange thought crossed my mind. I was a little glad she isn’t my daughter, because if she was I’m pretty sure my heart would have burst from pride. I honestly don’t know how my sister held it together as well as she did.
As each graduate crossed that stage, I found myself feeling increasingly hopeful. If enough people in the world have the devotion and exuberance and lust for life that Dev and the other members of her graduating class showed on that chilly December afternoon, I am confident that the future is very bright.
Discovering a new town
My tenure at The Tullahoma News began auspiciously with a ribbon cutting, the first of many such occasions that I have witnessed around town. Celebrating the achievements of our neighbors is one of the happier aspects of community journalism, but it is the native generosity here that impresses me most.
Donations of time, talent and treasure have filled my working calendar, and lifted my spirits in the bargain. In gestures both large and small, and too numerous mention, local needs of food, clothing and more are met with abundance through a patchwork of businesses, churches, government and individuals.
The heightened expectations of the holiday season made Santa’s elves of many Tullahomans. It was my privilege to witness the expressions of gratitude their gifts of toys made upon those recipients. Your gifts made lasting impressions.
That so many of those involved are youth bodes well for the future of Tullahoma. The elementary school children who organize food drives today will become the philanthropists of tomorrow. Their visits to a community resource like the Hands-On Science Center are underwritten by high tech industries, who know the value of investing in education. Following this cycle as a journalist has been my favorite memory of 2017.