“I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”
— Mark Twain
I must’ve been really bad, because he just made me editor of three of them.
(Some of my younger friends have recently told me I need to “text younger,” so if I was on my phone, this is where I would insert an LOL and a laughing emoji to indicate that was A Joke.)
After seven years at The Times in a couple of different newsroom managerial roles, the powers that be have chosen to let me run all three of Metro Market Media’s newsrooms, and I couldn’t be more excited — and maybe a little bit anxious.
I’m excited for a variety of reasons.
On a personal and professional level, if we go back to my first gig as a columnist for the Towers High School Oracle in 1985, I’ve been doing this newspaper thing off and on for nearly 40 years, so I’m glad to finally reach what for many print journalists is the mountaintop.
But on a deeper level, I’m excited because I believe in these papers and what they do for their communities, which is why I’m also a little anxious. I really want to do a good job for you, the reader.
Over the years that I’ve been in journalism professionally I’ve watched many of my colleagues go on to bigger things. Some of them wound up at The Associated Press, The Washington Post, The New York Times or similar high-profile outfits. While I’ve daydreamed of that occasionally, I never really considered it a goal because I’ve always felt more at home at community newspapers.
Those of us who spend our careers at such are part of a shrinking group. The number of organizations like The Times and the Dawson and Forsyth County News is shrinking, as is the number of people willing to do what is necessary to cover local issues. And that is tragic.
The Hussman School of Journalism’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media keeps track of the spread of news deserts, the communities that no longer have a local newspaper. According to the center, between 2004 and 2019, Georgia lost 21% of its newspapers and almost half of its daily circulation. Seventeen counties have no newspaper at all.
That means many areas have no journalists serving residents in any capacity. What caused the big fire? Was anyone I know in that car wreck? What’s the City Council spending my tax money on? In news deserts, the questions often go unanswered because they go unasked.
Not so in Dawson, Hall and Forsyth. All three counties still have newspapers with dedicated journalists willing to ask those questions, to sit in court and government meetings, to sift through stacks of documents and track down witnesses. And yes, at all three we still care about your calendar listing, your classified ad, and getting you an extra copy of the edition with your kid’s picture in it or your grandma’s obituary.
We also know how much many of you still care about your newspaper, and we welcome hearing what you think we’re doing right — and where we can improve.
Yes, the future has long been upon us and many of our features will continue to transition to the digital realm. But whether you want to read us on regular paper or on your phone, we will continue to care about you and your community because you have a right to know what’s going on it.
Right now, you are not in a news desert. You still live in a place where, in some form, we can continue to put these newspapers in your hands. And it’s why I will take seriously the stewardship of the newsrooms now entrusted to mine.
Nate McCullough is the group editor for The Times, the Dawson County News and the Forsyth County News.
Shannon Casas’ column will return next week.