By Sabrina Bates
Note: While this isn’t on the Opinions page, it is considered an Editorial piece.
I started my news journey 20 years ago when Tracy Sharp took a chance on me as a staff writer at the Weakley County Press in 2004. Fast-forward two decades as I type what is my last column as Editor of this newspaper.
I could likely write a book about everything I have discovered along the way, and I just may one day. Working with three newspapers in Weakley County has taken me on journeys from the courtroom to classrooms to dining with Governors and our community’s seniors. I hope that during my time, I have served my positions well as I deeply value this ever-evolving industry. And it is changing. I remember the days before websites and social media. Now, both of those seem to be a must for local media.
As I look ahead on a different career path, I wanted to leave you with some thoughts and appeals for action, while introducing you to the woman who is taking my place – Shannon Taylor. I have worked with Shannon closely for several months and I have seen her grow as a reporter. She is currently the editor of Weakley County’s newest newspaper, The Martin Post. She will be running the show at both publications after Friday.
Shannon has garnered many reputations in her last couple of years working as a reporter in this county. I’ve always said, we have different writing styles. I have a different writing style than most journalists I know – that is what makes each of us unique in this industry. While her reporting style is considered “in-your-face,” I will vouch for her relentless pursuit of the truth. Most people don’t realize what goes on behind the scenes in their own communities. It is even less apparent in larger cities. I have found community members trust her with information. They trust that she will uphold her protection of her sources and that trust is why everyday, ordinary citizens continue to reach out to her. We don’t reveal our sources as journalists and we shouldn’t. If we did, then how could people trust us to report the truth, even if it is so offensive that it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up? And many of you may not believe it, but there are some incredibly offensive truths out there about people in this very county. Truths that are so unbelievable that you’d have to see it for your own eyes.
When we talk about “reliable” sources, we aren’t necessarily talking about sources in “positions of authority.” When we say “reliable,” we are talking about people who can back up what they say and people we know who don’t just outright lie about situations. Reliable can mean anyone from any class of life.
If Shannon reports on a subject, I know she will have documentation, video or audio to back up that subject. Unfortunately, our communities are not immune to corruption. I’ve seen people turn a blind eye to a house party where teenagers were using drugs and drinking because of the title of the “host.” I’ve watched as people have tried to track down money, and a lot of it, that was legislated years ago for a scholarship program and records don’t seem to exist. I’ve known of prominent people who were at the home of a person whose body was discovered within days from what was reported as a drug overdose. I’ve witnessed people being accused of things with no evidence and faced criminal charges as a result. I’ve seen municipal governments who either don’t know the laws they are bound to when it comes to notices or they didn’t want to follow the laws pass ordinances that have incredible impacts on their citizens. These situations are very real. I expect more of those stories coming to light in the future.
With all of that said, our communities do have some incredible people in them who do amazing things. I encourage you all to engage with your local media outlets, help spread the word. Submit story ideas, photos and letters to the editor. Don’t just engage with your local media outlets, engage in your communities. Attend city, county and school board meetings. They are always open to the public and citizen input is real. Get to know who your elected officials are, your police and fire chiefs. Pay attention to when your local board meets and make an effort to be a part of the conversation. Ask questions and get answers.
If you own a local business, I am sure you have heard this time and again, but advertise with your local media outlets. Likes, comments and shares are great on Facebook for a newspaper when it comes to engagement, but those don’t pay for the cost of printing. Advertising dollars, however, are a newspaper’s bottom line. I have always been an advocate of businesses setting up an annual budget to advertise across a variety of mediums throughout the year. And with newspapers, there is a team member who designs your ad so you don’t have to. Website, print and social media ads are more affordable than you might think and you’re helping to keep the doors open for one of the oldest businesses in your community.
Subscribe. Subscribe. Subscribe. This newspaper costs $34 for a one-year subscription. If you’d rather not have the print version and would want to view it online, it’s only $28 for a year to scroll through the pages each week. And if there are articles that cost a few dollars to view “the rest of the story,” just remember that person spent time and effort to piece together that news item.
For nearly 150 years, this publication has provided news coverage of interest items across the county. What sets local newspapers apart from other media outlets is its originality. Feature stories become etched in time when they are printed on these pages. History is preserved when stories are stamped onto a news page. And believe it or not, there are still people who would rather hold the printed pages in their hands as opposed to reading a news blurb online.
Newspapers still hold value and will for a long time. Supporting local newspapers is supporting local people who live and work in your community, who send their kids to local schools and who make it a point to stop by a locally-owned business for a birthday gift.
We couldn’t and can’t do this without you. Thank you for showing me grace during my tenure as a local journalist in Weakley County and beyond. Thank you for allowing me to share your stories with others. And thank you for letting me use my voice in the best way that I knew how. Many blessings to you all throughout this year and the years to follow.