I backed into a career as a newspaper columnist. After four decades in the corporate world including a stint with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, I promised The Woman Who Shares My Name that I would retire like normal people and enjoy the fruits of my labors. She never believed that for a moment. And for good reason. I wouldn’t look her in the eye when I said it.
When the Games were over, I was asked to write a guest column for a local business publication on how the city of Atlanta fared in hosting the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. My answer: They blew it. I said the Games were great; the city of Atlanta was not. The only thing Atlanta did well was brag, but when the time came, the city couldn’t walk the talk, thanks to a racist city government and a timid business community. The column garnered national attention and got me more opportunities to voice my opinions. Sixteen years later, I am still at it: Sometimes in error; never in doubt.
I hear occasionally that local newspapers are dying. Not so. They are simply reinventing themselves. They report the news as they always have, but we now have a variety of ways to access that news beyond the printed copy that lands on our doorstep each morning. I spent the past week in the North Georgia Mountains. I kept up with things back home via my laptop and my cellphone (or whatever you call those gizmos these days), courtesy of MDJOnline.com. Ten years ago, that would have been an impossibility.
Admittedly, a number of big-city papers, like the New York Times and Washington Post, aren’t doing so well. The Times had to borrow $250 million from a Mexican billionaire to keep going. The Post recently sold out to Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. That should tell the big boys something. They have lost touch with ordinary Americans. About the only people who give a rip what they think live and work inside the Beltway.
The local newspaper is a different matter. The New York Times isn’t going to tell you about street closings and the actions of the school board and upcoming zoning issues. Neither will the Washington Post. The Marietta Daily Journal will.
I have the privilege of writing for a number of newspapers across Georgia, but my anchor is right here in Cobb County.
My mentor, Jasper Dorsey, former vice president of Southern Bell’s Georgia operations, became a columnist for the MDJ after his retirement in the late 1970s. To follow in his footsteps is special.
The late Otis Brumby Jr. gave us both the opportunity to appear on these pages and free rein to speak our piece. It is important to note here that I have never been told what to write. My opinions are mine and mine alone.
Speaking of Otis Brumby, one of his greatest legacies was his uncompromising insistence that government at all levels in Cobb County do the people’s business — in other words, your business — in the open. Trying to sneak a wink-wink, nod-nod political decision past the Marietta Daily Journal is like trying to sneak a sunrise by a rooster. It is not going to happen.
So what does National Newspaper Week have to do with you? While it is our job to give you all the relevant information and opinion we can gather together and present it to you, it is your job to do something with it. In these turbulent times in which we live, ignorance is not bliss and apathy is not an option.
Consider legislative reform in the last session of the General Assembly. That didn’t come about because legislators suddenly got religion. Much of the pressure for reform came from editorials and opinion pieces in newspapers across Georgia, including the MDJ and from your response to them. You made your voice heard on the need for more transparency in the relationship between legislators and deep-pocketed special interest groups and reluctantly our intrepid public servants acted. Score one for the good guys.
That is why local newspapers aren’t going away. They make a difference. A big difference. The theme of National Newspaper Week was “Your Community, Your Newspaper, Your Life.” I am honored to be a part of it.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.