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The Power of the Press

We count our blessings achievement by small achievement
      John Heiser took to heart Bay Weekly’s August 15 report that blue catfish had invaded Chesapeake Bay.
      “We’re at the point as decision-makers, and as citizens, where we need to decide whether this is important enough to do something about it,” Smithsonian Environmental Research scientist Matthew Ogburn told Bay Weekly.
      “Must we eat our way out of this problem?” asked Bay Weekly partner Bill Lambrecht, the story’s writer, noting punting by Bay fishery regulators.
       Heiser was, he said, “inspired.”
       That was a solution the entrepreneurial Heiser, of Fairhaven, could get hands, as well as heart, around.
       Over seven years, first-time restaurateurs Dave and Jessica Rosage had made a success of their incarnation of Skipper’s Pier, the restaurant Heiser had bought almost impulsively at auction and entrusted to them. Now the thriving waterfront restaurant and dock bar could be part of the solution. Chef Jessica and her mentor and partner chef Charles Warner could serve up blue catfish in offerings so tempting that customers would gladly help us out of our fishy problem.
      “This is the same species as New Orleans’ famed catfish,” Warner said, boosting the reputation of a fish often besmirched as a bottom feeder. “And we use only smaller fish with tender meat, not the big tough ones.” 
      Three recipes have made it out of the experimental kitchen onto the menu: blue catfish bites ($8); catfish tacos ($11); and pecan-crusted catfish ($16). 
     “We did lots of recipes, and these proved really popular,” Warner said. “Nuggets are a good starting point for people who’ve never tried catfish, and everybody likes tacos.”
      With its topping of Cajun marmalade, the pecan-crusted catfish filet appeals to an already fish-loving palate. 
      Lambrecht and I fit the bill, so our tasting with Heiser made us ready for more. Chef Warner spoke the truth in describing the invasive blue cat as a “nice meaty white fish, heavily flaked.” 
       Give it a try. It’s a delicious way to be part of a Chesapeake Bay solution.
 
Achievement by Achievement
      Lambrecht, our founding partner, can measure his achievements on a global scale. An investigative reporter in Washington for decades — first with the Pulitzer-owned St. Louis Post-Dispatch and now with Hearst Newspapers — Lambrecht tracked toxic dumpers around the world and traveled to 13 countries to measure the uprisings that met Monsanto’s gene-altered crops.
      Bay Weekly’s achievements have had more to do with changing minds.
      Twenty-six years ago, when we began our life as the newspaper committed to the Chesapeake, environmentalism was not an everyday habit. We’ve helped make it so, writing from week one about sustainable and innovative policy- and home-based solutions to the pollution of our great watershed by plastics, wastewater, stormwater, field-, crop- and lawn chemicals and, yes, invasive species like blue catfish.
      Enlightenment has followed in small ways.
      We count it an achievement when two readers — retired teacher Helena Scher and Don Risher of Belair Engineering — took action because of our words.
       Those two shared their monarch-butterfly-sustaining milkweed seeds with dozens of readers. We were mailing their seeds out all spring and into summer.
      We measure achievement by every story a writer has told in our pages. Each one is an encounter between you, dear reader, and them that would never have happened had not Bay Weekly existed as the bonding medium. That achievement has multiplied thousands of times over in 26 years without ever losing its shine. 
      Those stories have changed lives. Some of them, like Blue Cat Invasion, led to action. Others led to insight and wonder. Many led to a few moments of simple delight, and perhaps a new eye at looking at ourselves and the world around us. You may have found yourself — or your grandfather — the subject of one, and glowed in the unfamiliar spotlight of recognition.  
      Every writer’s life has changed, as well. It’s a never-too-familiar thrill to see your name in a print byline. But bigger still is the reward of seeing your words authorized. Bay Weekly gave many of our writers their first byline, and in our pages many of them found their voice — and often their future.
        Week by week for all the remaining weeks I have the privilege of writing this Editor’s Letter, I’ll be recalling those writers.
       One of them, Matt Pugh, I’ve just run into at The Point, the northerly of the two Anne Arundel County successes owned by another ambitious restaurant couple, Bobby and Julia Jones. We were both wearing big sunglasses, Matt and I, and, perhaps more tellingly, I’d let my hair go to salt and pepper since I’d seen him last. So I nearly passed him by until we both did the double-take of surprise and recognition.
       Matt was one of the many post-grads who’ve come our way while seeking his way. If I remember the story right, back in the early days of this ­century he’d asked another post-grad Annapolis bartender, Chris Heagy, how he’d gotten his writing gig at Bay Weekly. Chris made the introduction, and Matt came under our tutelage. That wasn’t always a comfortable place to be. We keep our writers on the hot seat. They’ve got to produce, on deadline’s pain of disgrace (and death in Bay Weekly’s pages), story after story that suits our high standards. And no, we don’t let them give up.
      On top of our pressure, readers often gave the dickens to Matt, a musician himself who demanded in his music reviews that the high-schoolers in Battle of the Bands live up to his high standards.
      Instead of escaping, Matt survived and flourished. Married and with a couple of kids, he runs his own PR firm, still plays with the band Willies Light and just ended a four-year term on the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee.
      Writing about a person who influenced him, Matt credited me with teaching him to lean in by leaning on him.
       That wasn’t ever me alone. It was all of us who work together to make Bay Weekly.
      In Your Say, star Bay Weekly staff writer of years back Louis Llovio tells his story of how the little paper we made changed his life.