Have you ever walked into a room full of strangers and immediately felt at home?
That’s exactly what happened to me last week while attending the annual Georgia Press Association conference. From the moment I walked into the first meeting I knew I was among friends.
Immediately I was surrounded by some of the best journalists in Georgia who write, publish and own local newspapers, many family run like Appen Media Group.
Nearly every topic, question or complaint they had, I, too, have encountered at some moment in my career.
These were my people and they have similar experiences that I can relate to more than probably anyone I know, outside of our newsroom.
I met a woman who writes for a newspaper in South Georgia. Her father owned the paper and somehow made the county sheriff so angry, the newspaper building was burned down, the father was threatened to be shot by the sheriff and he eventually had to flee the town.
Apparently, that’s just the nature of the business.
So when it came time to discuss the future of journalism, I couldn’t help but hang onto every word.
We were told repeatedly that what we do is important now more than ever and that the heart of journalism lies within local newspapers.
We are one of the few professions that will publically and unapologetically admit our mistakes in the form of corrections and usually at the beginning of the paper.
We are the ones who are at the funerals, six-hour board meetings and Saturday morning farmer’s markets because we want to showcase the cities from all aspects, good and bad, while being ingrained in the community.
It was comforting to be reassured by the state’s top local media professionals to keep on fighting the good fight.
And it was inspiring to hear about other local newspapers doing so well in their communities because I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told “print journalism is dying. You’re wasting your time.”
No, in fact, we are thriving. Where other forms of media are looked at as biased or fake, local newspapers fill in the gaps with truthful, honest and thorough information.
Of course, we have the heavy charge to stay true, authentic, open and candid with our readers and not let our own opinions cloud our writing.
I was honored to be named the Emerging Journalist in the state, and before I accepted my award, the speaker said the future of journalism is in my and my peers’ hands.
I don’t take that responsibility lightly and I don’t think they do, either, as we try to usher journalism into new territories while keeping true to the nature of the profession.
One word kept being said during the convention — passion.
Judges based award winners off how passionately the writer covered an event or spoke of a topic. Publishers spoke about how passionate they are about their community.
Passion is what will separate the fake news from the original crusaders of democracy, the true journalists.
And from what I saw in that room, Georgia is full of passionate reporters who want to tell nothing but the truth.