Southern culture, in my opinion, is often misunderstood. That very fact has for years insulated us here in Knoxville from change. I have heard it said that far up the steep hollows of Eastern Tennessee was the last place in the United States that genuine authentic English accents could be heard. In those days, it was the ruggedness of the terrain that kept change from creeping in. Later it was the perception that our culture was not very cosmopolitan but rather outright redneck that made our little corner of the world less desirable. We locals just laughed and kept our little secret to ourselves. Tennessee, especially Knoxville, is the furthest thing from scruffy imaginable, and the genuine authenticity of southern hospitality is a large part of what is endearing about this area.
I can say that through 23 years of bringing you the stories of our community, the times I receive the most authentic compliments are when I have been the most brutally honest about my own experiences. Living that exposed is, for most people, very uncomfortable. But as years passed, I learned that living every moment as if everything you did would be published in a magazine’s pages was freeing. It is the acceptance of your own authenticity. Where once I was concerned about what others thought of me, I now know that I am who I am. I am free at any time to completely redefine myself or to slip back into the ways of my past. And the times that fear creeps in and inhibits what I know is the real me, I try to think of authentic people I admire for inspiration.
John Pirkle, my early mentor in all things media, would admonish me whenever I even hinted that I wanted to do something that could be perceived as goofy or stupid. Under his tutelage, I learned that to be successful in earning the reader’s trust, I would have to follow a simple formula: all class, no trash, no goofy, no stupid—and always truthful. It made sense to me, and that was the course we set sail on 23 years ago. John did far more than just help me create a simple mantra; he taught me the value of knowing the story behind the story and how not to publish something untrue. He also taught me the value of providing information and not trying to sway the reader with your own opinion. He delighted in pulling my chain, and when he would really get me going, he would patiently wait for me to blunder. One day, he had me reeling. He made a rhetorical statement, and I replied, “Everybody knows that!”
“Really?” he replied. “Does everybody like chocolate?” He had me, and I somewhat unhappily admitted it. But in pointing out the importance of how a single word could change an entire story, he taught me how to be successful as a publisher.
From time to time, we all need someone to look up to as fearless. I think as years pass it is not who might be the most fearless of all time, rather who impacts you as the most fearless in your current day-to-day life. Learning to do this job well took me many years and a lot of help from some rather inspiring folks. I can honestly say that I have not only had the opportunity to work with some wonderful and knowledgeable people, but that I have learned something from all of them. And one of the most important things I have learned is to be true to your own authentic self—and never settle for less than you know you deserve.