The Key West Mystique

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Keeping it Key West mellow | Secrets of an information junkie

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.


My name is Linda and I am an information junkie. This is how I keep it Key West mellow.

I’m one of those folks who, in the olden days, read newspapers and magazines, listened to radio broadcasts and watched television news. All on multiple platforms, papers and channels, but usually not more than twice a day. Coffee and the news, then leaving the news behind, I was off to work, play and errands.

It was an addiction relatively well managed inside 40-plus years in the news business.

Then came cable news and my personal drug of choice, anything online. I went from news adrenaline fixes two times a day to mainlining with a smartphone. I’ve not achieved my goal of stumping Google with a question, though friends and family know how hard I’ve tried. Links to more information (not to mention cat videos) can suck me down rabbit holes for hours.

Even when I am without cell or Wi-Fi connection, a question pops up and before I can help myself, I reach for the phone. Sigh.

Every time I do that I can hear my mother saying, “But you live in Key West,” her gentle point a substitute for yelling at me to put down the darn device and pay attention to what’s in front of me.

About the fifth time I reached for my phone out in the Dry Tortugas a couple weeks ago, I stuffed it in the bottom of my backpack. (That resulted, unfortunately, in less than a dozen photos, but Ranger Ed and Chef Martha picked up the slack.)

Rarely do we need to know right now. We’ve skewed our definition of breaking news. Back in the old days, I called it “incremental news,” a disparaging phrase that meant it (whatever it was at the moment) wasn’t all that important because a whole bunch of stuff had to get resolved before there was actually news. Somebody, say a journalist, needed to keep watch, but there was no reason to slap a red banner across it.

These days every Tweet is a breath-stopping digital headline. I am mostly referring to state and national political news because in Key West, except for social media, our local news tends to get to us a bit slower. I used to think that wasn’t so good. I have changed my mind.

I’m glad local journalists have to take some time to digest what they learn before they ship it off to us. I’m glad that when something does warrant an immediate post they preface it with “this is what we know now; check back later.” Too bad the subsequent comments run off the rails speculating.

Botanical Garden Pond

Key West mellow | Lessons from Hurricane Irma

Back in September 2017, when John Teets and I teamed up to report on Hurricane Irma, I’d do a daily wrap-up of what we knew, what we didn’t know and what we thought we might know. It was a handy construct that kept folks up to date but didn’t get into the calamitously useless “post it-correct-it-post-it-again” cycle.

It’s a rare day there’s news so important we need it now. Had the world blown up while we were 70 miles from potable water, plumbing and electricity, we’d have eventually figured it out. I mean, if there were no ferry for three days? Kind of a signal weird might be happening back home.

Social media outrage is ridiculously addictive, factually suspect and wholly unproductive. If you’re local or a local wannabe and if social media is your thing, there’s nothing like swimming through the misleading histrionics of (1) trees, (2) tourists, (3) cruise ships, (4) traffic, (5) government, and (6) fill in the blank.

When I got back to Key West from Fort Jefferson, I saw a Key West post-plus-picture of a poinciana tree that had been taken down. Said poster and a plethora of chimers-in went apoplectic — and kept doing so even after it was ever so gently pointed out to them that they were, well, wrong. The OP didn’t even bother to add a correction to the original post. I could have lived forever not getting sucked into that one.

So, did I give up my phone when I got back? Of course not. I’m no crunchy curmudgeon sniffing sanctimoniously at those with a passion for the latest digital tech. I love trying to stump Google. But I am teaching myself to check my favorite news sites twice a day instead of dozens. I am learning to leave my phone at the bottom of the backpack.

My life is a lot quieter. It’s a Key West mellow kind of thing.


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