Happy anniversary to me ...
This week marks my 40th year in community journalism, as the editor and publisher of newspapers from Alabama to North Carolina to Tennessee.
I was a DJ at WPRN Radio in Butler, Alabama in February, 1979 when the owner of the local newspaper, The Choctaw Advocate, offered me the job of advertising manager. I said ‘yes’ and did that for four years, along with snapping pictures at community events from kindergarten graduations to interviewing statewide politicians who came to stump in the county, writing editorials, and covering every local board meeting known to humanity.
When the editor resigned in the early 80’s, I was promoted and served in that post until the spring of 2003 when I accepted a job as editor/publisher of The Avery Journal, and Mountain Times, in Newland, North Carolina.
After a few months in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we moved back to Alabama where we started The Choctaw Sun, a weekly that did so well that, four years later, we were able to buy and merge into that publication the former Advocate, where I had spent my first 23 years.
In the fall of 2013, I came to Tennessee to work for the Jones Media family as the editor/publisher of The Rogersville Review.
So here I am, four decades later ... having worn out multiple cameras, typewriters, computers, and burned the midnight oil on more nights than you would care to know about.
Come to think about it, I’m startin’ feel about as worn out as those old machines (lol!)
I’ve photographed more high school football games under Friday Night Lights than I can count, and heard tons of behind-the-scenes stories about local “when the poop hits the fan” scandals that if I were to write an expose-all book about one day, I could probably spend my sunset years a very wealthy man on some remote Caribbean island ... in the witness protection program (smile!)
I’ve seen many changes over the years ... from developing and printing b/w film and photos in a darkroom, and pounding out my stories on an old manual Underwood typewriter, to being able to produce entire ‘pre-press’ editions of newspapers on a Mac laptop at my kitchen table ... photos, text, layout and all.
Along the way I have met a ton of great folks, people I learned from, respected, and worked shoulder-to-shoulder with as we tried to produce for our readers the very best newspapers we could, often with limited staffs and resources with which we had to work with.
‘Weeklies’, just like the one you hold in your hand, are the true backbone, heart and soul of rural America. Papers like this have brought ‘local news’ to ‘local communities’ for more almost three centuries, and will continue to do so, no matter how many sadly delusional and uninformed know-it-alls continue to predict their demise.
I like to go into our “archives” room and flip through the pages of historic editions of the papers from decades ago. (I especially love browsing through the WWII years and reading how The Greatest Generation stepped up to the plate and saved the planet from Nazi barbarism and Fascism.) Each passing year is like a week-to-week diary of the life of places like this ... of the people who were born here, grew up here, went to school here, married here, went off to war from here, raised families here, built homes and businesses here, retired here, and who were later buried here.
Social media may be, in some people’s minds, the greatest thing since cheeseburgers, but Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or the myriad of website ‘news’ sources out there today can never compare to nor ever take the place of an honest-to-pete NEWSPAPER.
Here, we don’t deal in gossip from nameless sources, and we don’t print stories that we cannot substantiate through an official source, such as a bonafide law enforcement agency or otherwise.
Do we sometimes have to print negative news? Well, of course we do! A wise publisher once told me that a good newspaper that serves its community with passion and integrity would likewise have the intestinal fortitude to be an honest mirror of that community and its people, printing the news, factually and unbiased, both good and bad, and to let the people make up their own minds.
But over the years, at every paper I have ever worked, I have tried to print as much GOOD NEWS on the front pages as possible, because in Small Town, USA, a smiling kid waving at Santa in a Christmas parade, or a public servant getting a pat on the back for some good deed or a job well done, is more important in our world than if the President himself came to town.
I have laughed with, cried with, and prayed with many, many people whom I have interviewed and known in my career, and along the way, been wrongly accused of, threatened and cursed at by a few who really didn’t know, or stop to think, that the reason a story was published, or not published, as the case may be, wasn’t personal, or by those who were just PO’ed because they got caught in a bold-face lie, cover up, or with their hands in the public’s cookie jar.
But that’s OK, because after 40 years in this crazy business, I wouldn’t change a single thing because it has made be a better person and has given me unparalleled insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the communities where I have lived unlike any other job I could ever imagine.
I have met and interviewed U.S. Presidents, movie stars and some the most celebrated recording artists and sports figures of all time. But when all is said and done, I am most thankful for, and most proud of, the stories and photos I was able to produce about the LOCAL FOLKS in small towns along the way, folks who, to this day, still mean more to me than they will ever know, most especially our amazing VETERANS and FIRST RESPONDERS!
It’s THEIR STORIES ... YOUR STORIES ... that, God willing, I will be able to continue to tell for a long time to come.
And, FYI, the word “retire” is not even in the foreseeable future for me, so, for better or worse, y’all are stuck with me!
To close, just let me say a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who has been a part of this awesome 40-year ride.
Live long and prosper!