By Alex Wukman
Jesus, a decade. When the Free Press started most of us didn’t think it would last 10 months let alone 10 years. Like all businesses, the paper struggled early on. There are legendary stories of staffers getting paid in weed. Because of the lack of resources, the early years relied on the drive and dedication of the people involved to make the paper happen.
No one was at the Free Press to get rich–people were there because they believed in it. Sadly, nothing can stay young and reckless forever. Over the years, the paper has become respectable. No longer is the Free Press written exclusively for stoners and bored twenty-somethings. Now it is the centerpiece of a multimedia empire. But no matter how big the empire gets, the heart will always be the paper, and the heart of the paper will always be the writing. The following list includes a handful of some of our favorite pieces published over the years.
“Worst Complicity in Houston’s Worst Crime” By Amanda Hart, published January 2012
While this wasn’t the first article the Free Press ran on human trafficking, it was the first one to get widely noticed. The article prompted FOX 26 to do a segment on the Village Voice Media’s “escort” ads and was part of the tidal wave of negative publicity that prompted Village Voice Media to spin backpage.com off into its own business, for all the good that did.
“Montrose Secession Declaration” by Omar Afra, published in 2007
Sometimes a joke goes too far. It started out as an off-hand comment about how Montrose doesn’t feel like Houston, that it’s surrounded. That comment grew into an idea, which was followed by a joke about picking a down-on-his-luck local character as ‘mayor’ of the fictional City of Montrose. However, that local character took the ball and ran with it. He went and lobbied Houston City Council to overturn a bike registration ordinance and even tried to legalize marijuana by fiat. Sadly it didn’t work.
“When No Means Yes” by Amanda Wolfe, published November 2012
Influence isn’t always measured by wins or losses, sometimes it’s measured by hits and page views. While this article failed to prevent the passage of a flawed referendum, it did lead to one of the largest non-FPSF related hit counts that the Free Press website has seen.
“A Tale of Two Shops” by Andrew Burleson, published May 2010
Politics in Houston are pretty predictable: developers vs. community members, rich vs. poor, not in my backyarders vs. everything. It seems that some issues are as eternal, and eternally fouled, as the water flowing through the ship channel. Parking is one of those issues. While it has been getting a bit of attention lately, primarily because of an idea that it will make it difficult to open new businesses, the issue has been a problem in Houston for years.
“A War on Homelessness, or a War on the Homeless?” by Nick Cooper, published May 2012
While the Free Press has run many stories on the homeless and homelessness, none got quite the reaction that Nick Cooper’s article on a city ordinance making it illegal to feed the homeless did. It seemed to be all anyone wanted to talk about for the weeks leading to up to FPSF.
“An Open Letter to Our ‘Guests’ in Montrose” by Omar Afra, published April 2011
Gentrification hurts. A neighborhood ‘going upscale’ will always irritate the people who were there first. And when that neighborhood is Montrose it’s going to cause some blowback. The letter warning the beneficiaries of gentrification to be wary of certain establishments was an expertly delivered tongue-in-cheek response to gentrification poking fun at the ‘tourists wandering into the rough neighborhood,” a neighborhood that looks less like Texas’s version of the East Village and more like Greenwich, Connecticut every day.
“Oil and Racism” by Reza Fiyouzat, published July 2008
Some articles move readers emotionally, some articles make them aware of an issue or event, and some make them re-examine what they believe. While Fiyouzat’s piece wasn’t the most emotionally-stirring piece of writing, it did beg the reader to reconsider the isolationist attitude of U.S. environmental regulations.
“The Electric Chair Mini” by Gislaine Williams, published February 2007
Over the years since this article was published, tasers have moved from a nonlethal alternative to a very questionable use of force. Williams was making the same argument back in the Bush administration.
“Opiates for the Masses” by Anonymouse, published August 2008
Prescription drug abuse is the new heroin and Houston has been the epicenter of the epidemic. The pill mill has reshaped Houston’s drug culture. It’s not uncommon for someone to spend hours driving from one ‘clinic’ to another getting prescriptions for Soma, Xanax, and Vicodin–known as the Houston cocktail. In 2010, prescription medications were present in more deaths than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine combined.
“Dark Crystals” by Alex Wukman, published July 2005
This article forced the City of Houston to increase methamphetamine enforcement. At the time the article was published, it wasn’t uncommon to see strung out street kids walking down Westheimer. Back then, in the dark days of the Bush administration, Montrose, like the rest of the country, was being flooded with meth. The only difference was people were willing to talk about and write about it in New York and L.A. That wasn’t the case in Houston. Intrepid TV reporters weren’t going undercover into the world of Houston’s meth culture and the major papers weren’t running exposes on the meth pipeline. So when the Free Press article hit, it was a bombshell. The article pushed the Chronicle to interview law enforcement about the problem and forced Mayor Bill White to convene a special multi-agency meeting at the West Gray Multi-Service Center every week for three months. The meetings brought HPD, the Harris County Hospital District, City Council Members, and the D.E.A. to Montrose to talk about the area’s drug problem.