This may come under the heading of home cooking, but this is National Newspaper Week, something we should both be celebrating. Me, because I get a chance every week to tell you what’s on my mind and you, because you can tell me whether or not you agree. It is the newspaper that makes it possible. Don’t try this in Iran.
I backed into this gig almost 20 years ago when I wrote a guest column after the Centennial Olympic Games of 1996 about how totally unprepared the blowhards in the city of Atlanta were for this world-class event. I was a managing director of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and saw the city’s ineptness up close and personal. I spared no adjective in letting readers know what I thought of the city’s performance, or lack thereof.
That column caused quite a stir nationally and led to more opportunities to voice my opinions and more outlets in which to do so. Several years ago, I was told that my words reach more than a half-million households weekly in Georgia. I will take their word for it, but the only household that really matters to me is yours.
Not that we always see eye-to-eye. Strong opinions beget strong reactions. The fun of this column is to keep ’em guessing. A recent letter writer in Marietta lumped me in with a group of “right-wing” columnists. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that a reader in middle Georgia thinks I am an “Obama bedwetting liberal.” Why ruin her day?
As sure as God made little green apples, newspapers will be around long after I am gone. Their format will no doubt evolve in the ever-changing world of technology, but not their role as your watchdog. If they — and we — don’t keep an eye on the doings of our government from Washington to city hall, who will? Anonymous sources on the internet? Self-appointed “experts” in the blogosphere? I don’t think so.
The theme of this year’s National Newspaper Week is “Real Newspapers ... Real News” and is obviously a response to the “fake news” accusations currently being hurled around about the news media. I find it ironic that people will ascribe all sorts of sinister motives to the news media but will take unsubstantiated garbage on the internet as gospel. You should see some of my mail.
I have perhaps a unique perspective on the news media. I have been a part of the media for almost two decades. Prior to that, for several decades, I dealt on a regular basis with media at all levels from the television networks to major newspapers, news magazines and local media.
If the media — and I am speaking almost exclusively of the national media — are guilty of anything, it is having a serious case of self-importance and being out of touch with the American public. They don’t fake the news, they just think they know more than we do. A lot of it is an “inside the Beltway” mentality and a scratch-my-back relationship between news people and Washington politicians.
Local newspapers, on the other hand, are where the rubber meets the road. We shop at the same grocery stores with you, buy our gas at the same service stations, attend the same churches, pay the same local taxes and have the same strong interests in seeing our community prosper.
Unlike the anonymous souls in the big city papers who live in a cocoon — remind me to tell you sometime about the New York Times editor who thought contestants in the Olympic whitewater rafting competition were going to use inner tubes, I kid you not — you know who we are, how to find us and are inclined to give us instant feedback on our performance. That’s not a bad thing.
In my days in the corporate world, no matter how well I thought I had performed my duties on behalf of my company and our customers on any given day, my boss would always say, “Just remember that you run for re-election every day.”
I never forgot that admonition. I have written some 1,500 columns since that first screed in 1998, but I know I still run for re-election daily. While I don’t take myself seriously, I take this privilege to correspond with you very seriously. The real news is that none of this could happen without the newspaper.
That is why I am celebrating National Newspaper Week and hope you do, too.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com; website, dickyarbrough.com.