Roxanne Escobales: Passion and free CDs

click to enlarge Roxanne Escobales: Passion and free CDs - Todd Bates
Todd Bates
Roxanne Escobales: Passion and free CDs

It took me about six months to stop feeling like a fraud. As an intern, then a copy editor, then the associate editor of what was known as the Weekly Planet, I got paid to do what I love — read and write — and although I showed up in the morning and stayed till late, sometimes on the weekends, it was too much fun to be work. After half a year, I was able to answer that cringe-worthy question “What do you do?” without feeling I was pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, least of all my own. That was in 1996. Planet circulation was 70,000-80,000 copies; Lawton Chiles was governor; cell phones were exotic; Malcolm Glazer was strong-arming local government to pay for a new stadium; Channelside was a dodgy street driven through quickly with the windows up on the way to Ybor City; U.S. 19 was still vaguely quaint in an old Florida way with its strip malls and gaudy signage; we used dial-up modems, and it took about a year for a webpage to load.

After grafting through a string of restaurant jobs while studying English lit at the University of South Florida, I landed my first job in the media. And despite working for some pretty big news organizations in the past 17 years, nothing has ever lived up to the Planet.

Why? The snarky answer would be the free CDs. The heartfelt answer? The people. Some of them are still there, and from what I’ve seen the ones who have come after my time have continued the ethos and attitude that have carried the newspaper from strength to strength.

Despite the myriad personalities on staff, we all had a few things in common: we felt passionate about Tampa Bay, and even more passionately about our readers. Management gave a damn about what mattered to the staff. After an in-house poll found that most staff didn’t feel sex ads were in keeping with our mission statement, they were pulled despite the loss of revenue [Editor’s Note: The moratorium didn’t last.] When the production team told us they needed more creative input, the editorial team engaged them at an earlier stage of the story development and some dynamite graphic design ended up winning awards. When it became apparent that cover images of black people didn’t shift papers, we kept putting them on the cover anyway. Before citizen journalism, we spent endless hours discussing “public journalism” as a robust method for ensuring we were telling our stories and delivering our news to the highest standard we could.

And then there were the painful sacrifices in the name of a story. The time the then Copy Editor Julie Garisto (now the Arts and Entertainment Editor), staff writer David Jasper (now a reporter in Bend, Oregon) and I took a whole afternoon driving around Tampa and up and down Pinellas County to research the best ice cream parlours for the 1998 Summer Guide issue, all for you, dear reader. Or when news reporter Susan Eastman headed to Land o’ Lakes and reported in the buff for a cover story on the nudist community there. Or the countless gigs family man and music critic Eric Snider attended to make sure he was down with the kids.

That was then, in the heady days at the end of a millennium. Now the news and publishing industry is trying to find a way to survive in an online world where multimedia content is expected to be free. Creative Loafing was ahead of the curve — it’s always been free. Here’s to another 25 years and beyond of supporting local bands, art and theater, and pointing out the best places for grub, while keeping the community — and the people — at the heart of the paper.

I miss working there. Thanks for all the CDs.

Roxanne Escobales worked at the Weekly Planet from 1996-1998. She is now a freelance journalist and audio producer who works for the BBC and The Guardian newspaper in London, England.

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