Living a Little Crazy: Returning to Journalism 50 Years Later

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Zac Efron and Hugh Jackman in "The Greatest Showman" 2017 (FOX)

Jim and Martha Rapp 2022.

Sometimes life’s greatest blessings come with living a little crazy.

So it was that fifty years ago, at 1:30 p.m. on a balmy Thursday, Dec. 28, we—Martha, a cub Lifestyle Editor and columnist for The Belleville (IL) News-Democrat, and Jim, a second-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis—were married in Rock Island, IL.

We’d met a year-and-a-half earlier in a journalism class at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Within a week of our first date, we decided to spend our lives together.

Marveling at the grace behind this stumbled-into blessing, we know it was the best decision of our lives.

Jim and Martha Rapp in 1972.

News as a ‘Boundary Object’

How can you explain instant attraction that quickly transforms itself into lifelong love?

As one of Martha’s gifted students recently explained, in social sciences there is a theory that sharing a mutual interest—for example, a passion for a sport, music, or reading—has the power to transcend differences, facilitate communication, and bring people together. These mutual interests are called “boundary objects.”

For us, among our “boundary objects” has always been an unwavering commitment to the absolute importance of the Fourth Estate—the news media—as the bedrock of a free and democratic society. Thus, we became seriously concerned in January 2021 when Quincy Media, Inc. announced that its media holdings were being sold. These assets included the local newspaper that had served our community for more than a century. 

We took note that the article reported buyers were being sought.

Jim’s first thought? Reach out about taking over the newspaper. Martha’s immediate reaction after years working in corporate marketing? It’s already been sold.

Undaunted, Jim approached Bob Gough, then a casual acquaintance who we admired as a first-rate journalist and now as a friend, about trying to acquire the newspaper. With the support of Bob’s wife Ellen (who we’ve come to love), Bob and Jim reached out to Quincy Media, Inc.  Perhaps not surprisingly, the attempt to at least make a pitch went nowhere.

Still undaunted and becoming increasingly convinced that local news would suffer, and that media of the future didn’t have to be encumbered by a printing press, a plan was hatched to launch a locally owned and operated online multimedia platform. As a proud graduate of the University of Missouri’s exalted J-school, Bob had to swallow hard to join forces with a couple of U of I grads, but once again our shared “boundary object”—a steadfast commitment to local news—won out. 

As it became clearer that our vision could actually become a reality, Pike County (IL) friends Mike and Ellen Kinscherff agreed to come onboard, joining us as the financial backers. In fact, it was Mike who came up with the “Muddy River” name—catchy, not outdated, and something that would make sense to people in our intended coverage area in West Central Illinois and Northeastern Missouri.

After a couple months of planning and set-up, Muddy River News went live on April 29, 2021, with a full-time staff of one: Bob. We’d expected it to stay that way and operate with the help of a network of stringers for a while.

Jim Rapp, Bob Gough, and Mike Kinscherff April 2021

Living a Little Crazy

Looking back, one of Muddy River News greatest successes has been building a team of gifted news and sports reporters and commentators. They have rallied around Bob to become official “Muddy Buddies.”

In just over a year-and-a-half the team has expanded to include David Adam and Matt Schuckman, our extraordinarily talented news and sports editors, along with Steve Eighinger, Ron Kinscherf, Ashley Conrad, Brittany Boll, Frankie Geising, Don Crim, Randy Phillips, Mark McDonald, Frank Cann, and others who also contribute content periodically. Megan Duncan will join them in January. 

Bob (who may not always come across as the most overtly sentimental guy) recently touched our hearts as he described in an email the work “to put a team . . . and maybe a family . . . together” at Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports. In his reminiscing, he drew on the lyrics and shared the video of a song from the musical, “The Greatest Showman,” to express an idea too deep for mere words. In a song called “The Other Side,” where Hugh Jackman’s P.T. Barnum crooned to his soon-to-be partner that sometimes you need to “trade your typical for somethin’ colorful“ and “if it’s crazy, live a little crazy.”

Touché. 

If Muddy River News seemed a little crazy a year-and-a-half ago—if it was a little crazy a year-and-a-half ago, it doesn’t seem so crazy now. Since its beginning, Muddy River News operations (which also include TV+ and podcasts) have been accessed from more that 1.3 million unique IP addresses (devices) and counting.

The Muddy River News Ministry

In fact, today Muddy River News is our Number One personal ministry.

A ministry?!? Yes, and here’s why:

Since 2004, a walloping 2,100 local newspapers in the U.S. have shut down or slashed frequency and coverage. During that timeframe, more than 30,000 reporting jobs have been lost. As significantly, 90 percent of U.S. TV stations are now owned by six corporations, all with their own biases and a proclivity for replacing local news with national feeds that support corporate political agendas—all at a significant loss to grassroots journalism. 

Not coincidentally, the painful demise of local news has led to a systemic erosion of balanced information about local issues and candidates, a decline in civic debate and voter participation, loss of media oversight that holds public officials and institutions accountable, and correlated and well-documented increases in local corruption, taxes, and short-sighted actions that work against the greater public good. It’s a big deal (or should be)—a deeply polarizing turn of events that is threatening the very foundation of democracy, freedom, and our ability to make our communities stronger and better. 

Certainly there are times we don’t like the news that’s reported, even by Muddy River News. Like it or not, it still needs to be reported. People who are the subject of coverage sometimes like it less than we do. But even then, and after some reflection, a few of those who have been called out have had the courage to admit it was the right thing to do and they are better for it—much to their credit. 

Local journalism and honest reporting make a community a community. That’s the commitment of Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports. Our Home. Our News. Our Sports.

Looking Ahead

The future of Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports is encouraging. We believe they are on the cusp of becoming (if not already) the most important and talked-about sources of local news and information in our area. We will do our best to keep it that way.

We’re often asked if we plan to create a paywall in the future. (It’s no secret that area residents love what’s free!) The answer is a resounding NO. With the ongoing support of advertisers and contributors, Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports will continue to be available and grow. We only ask that our readers support local journalism by supporting those who support Muddy River News and Muddy River Sports through advertising. 

Bob Gough will continue to share evolving plans for our platform. As he said in a recent commentary, “There will be more, more, and more!”  Articles, videos, podcasts, and yes, more!

On a personal note, as we move beyond our 50th anniversary, Jim will continue his full-time law practice with Schmeideskamp Robertson Neu & Mitchell LLP and Martha will continue her many activities including serving as a spiritual director and a Blessing Hospital volunteer chaplain, preaching, and working with doctoral students at Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis as opportunities present themselves. 

And from time to time, we’ll both continue to dust off our journalism hats and contribute to Muddy River News. 

After all, few things in life are more gratifying than living a little crazy. 

Jim and Martha Rapp

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