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Column: After one year as editor, this is what I know
Shannon Casas high res
Shannon Casas

“Readers expect the editor to be a combination of sheriff and minister … to play both sides against the middle, to be right always and to fail never in championing every cause. In politics, the editor is supposed to be infallible. If he is a Democrat, Republicans spurn him, and vice-versa. He must be the know-all of it all, the Alpha and Omega, the sum and substance of those things that are, have been and are to be. It’s impossible, but who wouldn’t want to be an editor? It’s the only life.”

That’s a quote I read shortly after being named editor this time last year. It’s by Austin Dean, who was editor of The Eagle when the Smithgalls bought it, forming The Times in 1947.

A lot has changed in the newspaper business since the mid-20th century. But some things haven’t — being editor is a demanding job.

After one year with that title, I still love the last two sentences of that quote because this job is a calling. 

That’s true of any role in the newsroom, not just my own. The job doesn’t pay well — first-year teachers make more than many journalists. It’s undervalued or in some instances reviled, as accusations of fake news fly even against local reporters, who are much more concerned with city hall than the White House. And though a journalist’s hours are flexible, they often include nights, weekends and holidays. Who wants to work Thanksgiving? No one, that’s who.

But the work means something.

It was about this time last year when a reporter was sitting at a City Council meeting, expecting little to report but instead getting the bombshell news that the city was purchasing — again — the property at the end of the pedestrian bridge for $10 million. We’ve continued following that as deals have been made and new plans announced — the land still hasn’t been purchased by the developer planning apartments and retail on the property

Then this past summer, we learned Tim Knight’s downtown Gainesville Parkside project was never going to break ground on that empty fourth side of the square that’s been nothing but a parking lot full of potholes for at least the past year. Just last month, we reported Doug Ivester’s new plans for the spot. And we’ll be following just how much tax money goes toward these projects.

We’ve also followed tragic news like that of Deputy Blane Dixon’s death and reported numerous stories about how this community reacted to that news and supported his family and our law enforcement. 

More recently, we’ve sought to shed light on two shootings involving law enforcement, one in which a man reportedly waving a gun around was shot by police near the hospital and another in which a man threatened emergency personnel and was then shot by police. The GBI is still investigating those incidents, and we’re still pursuing additional details.

We also uncovered poor management in the Hall County Marshal’s Office and pored over human resources files to tell that story. 

We learned about the exodus of Heart Center doctors from Northeast Georgia Health System and have closely followed the breakdown in the system’s negotiations with insurer Anthem

And on a lighter note, we brought you unmatched coverage of the story of Luke Parker, the local guy turned villain on “The Bachelorette.” 

Every one of those stories required the dedication of a journalist. And not every one of those stories made us popular. 

If I’ve learned anything in the past year, it’s that the newspaper can’t possibly please everyone — which means someone is always going to think we’ve got it wrong. Some days it’s hard not to take that personally.

Another thing I’ve learned, though, is that the newspaper is nothing without its readers. Many of those stories I just mentioned started when someone called me up and asked what was going on with X, Y or Z. I didn’t know. And it might have taken a while, but our journalists found out.

I might like to be the “know-all of it all,” but I can’t know it if I don’t learn it somewhere. So, call me up if you think we’re missing something. And for Pete’s sake, call me and tell me if we have something wrong in the paper. 

I’d love for our team to catch every error — and we have a lot of policies in place to try to make that happen — but even I can make stupid mistakes. Like last week, when I wrote that women walked on the moon when what they really did was walk outside the International Space Station. Oof — wishful thinking, I guess. I wish our team had trusted their instincts more than their boss and caught that for me. But after it appeared in the paper, I didn’t get one single email or phone call pointing out my error. I’d rather feel stupid and fix it than the error live in perpetuity on the internet. 

While I can’t promise perfection, I can promise we care about getting things right. And we’ll work to present all the facts we can in the pursuit of honestly local news. Beginning Oct. 27, The Times is publishing an “About us and our values” section on page 2 of the print edition. That will print each and every day in that spot so that you know what we’re about and can hold us to it. It is also available online. This is your newspaper and ours.

Shannon Casas is editor in chief of The Times and a foster parent. You can hear her most weeks on the Inside The Times podcast on iTunes or Google Play.

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