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Column: 15 years at The Times: Old methods, big stories, lasting legacies
Shannon Casas
Shannon Casas

About this time 15 years ago, I was working the late shift at The Times in my first week of my first post-college job.

The guy behind me was probably wearing a black T-shirt with a snake on it and calling me “new girl” as he showed me the ropes of the newspaper’s copy desk, where page layout is done. 

One of my supervisors might have been borrowing a computer next to me to lay out some pages in the Sunday paper. He was likely grumbling under his breath at that computer, which never did what he wanted it to or fast enough for his liking. He likely had reason to grumble, because our systems were antiquated, especially compared to the latest technology I’d been using in college.

But we got the job done, exported our pages and film came out in a room down the hall. Someone checked the film and then a plate was made, and another, and another, until the press was ready to roll and make the daily paper. 

After that was done, we emailed the day’s headlines to someone who somehow got the stories onto gainesvilletimes.com. That was the only time the site was updated, once a night.

This was before Facebook forever changed the flow of information. Before Craigslist decimated newspaper’s classified revenues. Before everyone had a smartphone in their pocket. Before I really understood the importance of a local newspaper to its community. 

I celebrated my 15th anniversary with The Times on Jan. 17. I was pulling the on-call weekend shift, updating COVID data on our website and double checking that the virtual MLK Day activities were mentioned in our Monday morning newsletter.

Times have changed since 2006, and The Times has changed with them.

The paper celebrates 74 years Jan. 26. Maybe this time next year, we can celebrate as we turn a big 75.

My 15 years is but a short blip in the history of the paper, founded by Charles and Lessie Smithgall in 1947.

Some of you have been subscribing much longer than my 15 years. Some of you have been subscribing longer than I’ve been alive.

As I learned the ropes on the copy desk, I slowly learned the legacy of the paper, too. I learned about the Smithgalls and their work at the paper and many philanthropic endeavors around town. I learned names like Sylvan Meyer and Phil Jackson. For the newcomers, Meyer was editor at The Times for several years. He was respected by staff and faced threats from some in the community for his support of civil rights in the 1950s and ’60s. 

Jackson was a longtime sports editor described by many as “a character,” and he documented the region’s sports for decades. 

Though these legends have passed — except Lessie who each year marks another birthday past 100 — their stories have been passed down by those who’ve toiled away at our stacked stone building on Green Street.

The editor before me, who kept a lower profile but marked about as many years as Jackson did at The Times, oft refers to our newsroom as the old garage, referencing when the space was indeed a parking garage. The building was expanded ahead of the 1996 Olympics, becoming what is now a large space for a smaller staff, many of whom work from their homes these days.

In my 15 years, more characters have come and gone through our newsroom, some spending brief stints but making a big impact, others names I almost forget and still others who have their own stories to tell from the years they have spent at The Times. Most quietly and diligently work each day to provide local news that matters to you. 

Some of the stories I remember best are the ones we tell about this community. The time a young and energetic reporter agreed to work the fields at Jaemor to tell the story of immigrant labor at the popular farm. The time a reporter and photographer journeyed from the headwaters of the Chattahoochee to the Apalachicola Bay to discover deeper stories in the water war saga involving Lake Lanier. 

The drama of local politics and personnel that has resulted in reporter after reporter catching wind of a big story, nailing down the details and getting a big lead headline.

This past year and upcoming year will have their own stories, marked by the historic changes that our team has reported and experienced. 

Then there are the stories of the newsroom. The time I sent a college intern off to look for a young bear that had been spotted by the office. My boss joked I had sent the only person smaller than me off to hunt a bear that could eat her in one bite. I don’t recall whether she found the bear, but she got her story. 

The time one of my reporters called me to see if I could get photos at a breaking crime scene at an upscale subdivision minutes from my house. She’d heard the breaking news, but I was closest to the scene. A security guard came chasing after me in his golf cart before I ever got to the scene. 

The time it snowed so much one of our copy editors drove his four-wheel Jeep like The Times school bus, picking up employees at the ends of icy roads to get us to the office. It stayed cold so long that year, the deserted snowy roads lasted for days. We still put out the paper.

The time I told a copy editor that he could stop using the “coronavirus” label on the front page because soon enough that’s all we would report on all of the pages.

Sometimes I feel like years in a newsroom must be something akin to dog years. 

Fifteen years might be a short blip to some, but that short blip can hit hard when you recall a story from a decade ago then turn around and interview a college kid, back at the beginning again, hoping to get a break at a local newspaper — and having no idea how much it will all matter.


Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a North Hall resident. 

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