By Matt Phillips
NCCU Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE
South Side Scoop
Tires. It all started with tires.
Chicago’s South Side was full of them. They were in alleys and on street corners, the rubber refuse of neighborhood mechanics trying to get by.
Pat Murray had already self-published either one or two issues – she can’t quite remember how many now – of her neighborhood newspaper, the Woodlawn Scoop. Murray received a tip about a tire bounty. The city was giving 50 cents for every tire people brought in off the streets. She decided to write it up.
Murray wasn’t sure if people were even reading the Woodlawn Scoop. A few days later she found out; they were reading all right.
“When the tires disappeared I was awestruck,” said Murray. “That’s when I knew, this community journalism business is serious. It makes a difference.”
To understand Murray you have to understand a little something about Chicago. Most neighborhoods have their own small, metro newspapers. Woodlawn though, where Murray lived, had been without a newspaper for two decades.
Murray said the major media often covered negative news in Woodlawn, but nobody wrote about the neighborhood’s triumphs.
“They only came to my neighborhood to cover the bad stuff,” said Murray. “That’s when I realized I needed to start my own paper.”
And Murray did start her own paper. She printed the Woodlawn Scoop on eleven by seventeen paper. Folded in half, it was four pages of community stories and useful information for Woodlawn residents. Murray asked herself what she wanted her neighbors to know, and then she printed it.
“There’s great people in so-called bad neighborhoods,” said Murray. “I wanted to show people – there’s something going on in this neighborhood.”
Murray worked nights and put together her newspaper during the day. Circulation grew. She expanded her coverage and the Woodlawn Scoop became the Englewood Scoop, and eventually, the South Side Scoop.
“I didn’t know it was going to grow. It was just something I wanted to do,” said Murray.
Murray said the South Side Scoop’s circulation reached 20,000 at its peak. It was a paper for the entire community. And it was full of positive, useful information.
“I always just wanted to show the South Side for what it is. And that is not just one group,” said Murray.
Murray has lived in Durham for the last ten years. She moved from Chicago to care of her aunt, who had Alzheimer’s.
Murray works as a freelance editor and proofreader for a living. She also works as DJ Piddipat and hosts a weekly community radio show on WNCU, “Radio Skywriter.” Murray writes, edits, and publishes the Durham Skywriter, an online community newspaper.
You’re a kid. Things stick with you. You don’t know why, but they do.
Murray said when she was young a neighbor from Hungary printed a newspaper in his garage. It was called the Magyar Post. Murray couldn’t read a lick of Hungarian, but that wasn’t important.
“I remember being so impressed I couldn’t even stand it,” said Murray. “I wonder if that was in the back of my mind when I started my paper.”
Murray had other kid interests too. She loved taking pictures. Her dad, a social worker, taught her about photography. She was in a salsa band. Murray listened to the radio and collected different kinds of music.
“I would do what was called DXing, which was listening to far away stations,” said Murray.
She mailed requests for local baseball schedules to radio stations across the country. That was the thing to do. But her heart, as she puts it, was in newsprint.
“I was always the dork in the back of the bus reading the paper,” said Murray. “I always loved magazines and newspapers.”
Murray’s mom taught kindergarten. She and Murray’s dad sent their daughter to their alma mater, Talladega College, where Murray majored in sociology. Eastern Alabama shocked Murray, who was born and bred a city girl.
“It was the opposite of Chicago. Amazingly rural, chickens running around and nipping at your ankles,” said Murray.
The most important lesson Murray learned at Talladega was the power of information. She said statistics can be manipulated, and the truth can only be discovered at the personal level.
“What that taught me was, you’ve got to think for yourself, you’ve got to be really smart about looking at more than one source,” said Murray.
According to Murray, most times the difference between the poor and those better off is access to meaningful information.
“When people don’t have access to information it’s kind of hard to act on it,” said Murray. “You have to look at the statistics and realize – there are real people there.”
Gloria Doyle is a friend of Murray’s. Doyle’s mom and Murray’s aunt were close, so the two girls decided to call themselves cousins. They’ve know each other their entire lives.
“She had a little section in the Skywriter, ‘Helpful Hints,’ I learned a lot from that section,” said Doyle. “Now I google stuff online, back then I’d look in that section.”
Doyle said Murray is good listener and great judge of character.
“She’s one of those people that kind of march to the beat of their own drum,” said Doyle. She has to me, a unique perspective on life.”
Murray’s dedication to community news is rooted in passion, but there’s a some pain there too. Her younger brother died a sudden death in his twenties. Murray loved to teach him new things, and it’s that love that compelled her to publish the South Side Scoop, and it’s what keeps her publishing the Durham Skywriter.
“I still have the urge to be a big sister,” said Murray. “That’s the driving force behind my getting into community news – is really my primal urge to be a big sister.”
Fate is a funny thing, the way it pulls and yanks.
Murray’s aunt died five years ago. Alzheimer’s is a struggle for both the afflicted and caregivers. Murray said she wants to write a book for regular people to help with that struggle.
“Our little relationship blossomed, so to speak. It started out real rocky, but I enjoyed it. I was sitting right there at her bedside when she died,” said Murray. “She called me kid, never did know what my name was.”
Murray gave up the South Side Scoop for family. But she’s in Durham to stay, and now she has the Durham Skywriter.
Aasim Inshirah hosts “Afternoon Jazz” on WNCU. He said Murray is an important piece of Durham.
“Pat is one of the most community-oriented and community-minded people in this town,” said Inshirah. “She’s a real cheerleader for Durham.”
Murray’s philosophy is to cover positive community news rather than negative stories.
“I don’t come to just point out the problems. We all know the problems,” said Murray. “People really want positive news. They don’t have the power to tell you, because you’re not listening half the time.”
For Murray, finding and telling beautiful stories is important for neighborhoods because the average citizen has a better chance of being in a community paper than a big daily.
“The older I get the more I realize what’s really needed and what’s being ignored,” said Murray. “I think if we spent more time showing the spelling bee winners and the little league strikeout kings and the neighborhood triumphs – people would be more interested in community news.”
The Durham Skywriter is available to read and download at durhamskywriter.blogspot.com. The half hour show “Radio Skywriter” airs at 8:30 a.m., Saturdays on WNCU 90.7 FM and is available for download on iTunes. As DJ Piddipat, Murray has an eclectic collection of music from around the world. Booking information is available at djpiddipat.weebly.com.