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Jeff Whitten: Thankful for support
editor's notes

Pardon this particular Thanksgiving turkey, also known as me, for stating the obvious right off the bat but here goes: These are precarious times for newspapers like this one, which has been hanging on by the skin of its teeth and the hair on its chin for some time.

While our continued existence is due in part to all our astute subscribers and advertisers, and I’m thankful for every last one– there are a handful I’m going to mention because without their respective companies continued support, I’m not sure we’d be here tomorrow.

I’ll list them in alphabetical order by their surnames: Steven Asplund of GeoVista Credit Union; Mark Bolton of Coastal Electric Cooperative and Doyce Mullis of First Bank of Coastal Georgia.

None have ever asked me for a favor when it comes to coverage, none has any idea I’m calling them out in this column, and hopefully not one of them comes over to my house over the holiday and lets the air out of my tires or TPs my trees for doing it. I do mean well.

These three men, through their companies, have given the Bryan County News a great deal of support no matter how much this editor manages to mess it up, and for that I’m grateful.

By investing in the BCN, they are helping this county’s only locally based, fully unbiased news source keeps its lights on for another day.

That’s important, because, as has been said, community papers like this one are struggling to stay afloat. Sure, some out there probably think we deserve what we get and that’s fine by me, because I learned a long time ago you aren’t going to change the minds of people who already know everything.

I also learned over the years that newspapers and the people who work for them tend to be a lot like cops or lawyers or dentists or congressmen – few like us until they need us.

Trouble is, it’s getting harder than ever for us to fulfill what our forefathers envisioned when they provided for a free press in the Constitution. Namely, that’s our role as government watchdogs. These days we’re so outnumbered there are times coming to work one feels like the Little Dutch Boy trying to figure out which hole to plug before the whole place ends up under water.

To rehash the direction things are going, a little over a decade ago this paper had a fulltime news staff of three reporters (me included) and a handful of regular correspondents and we wouldn’t dream of missing a city council or county commission meeting – even though most of the time the government coverage we provided didn’t draw much readership.

It also didn’t help us over time, since look where we are nowadays, creaking down the road with a newsroom consisting of one funny looking full-time hack editor and two part -timers who also work for other newspapers.

And all that in the fastest growing county in Georgia and the sixth fastest growing county in the U.S. It’s no wonder we can’t keep up with the negative nabobs on Facebook.

If I were smarter, I’d be able to explain what this shrunken news staff means more succinctly, but basically, it’s a cycle wherein without revenue, it’s hard to hire reporters.

Without reporters, it’s hard to adequately provide news coverage.

Without news coverage, it’s hard to attract readers.

Without readers, it’s hard to get advertisers. And with that we’re back to where we are: Without advertisers, it’s hard to hire reporters, cover news, attract readers, etc.

Unless something changes in how newspapers are funded – and a newspaper can still be a newspaper without its print version, I wager, although I tend to like paper because I can wrap fish or set fires with it – then we need more folks like Asplund, Bolton and Mullis, and their respective companies to step up.

If that happens, and I’m not hopeful, we in newspapers need to fulfill our part of that bargain by investing money into adding newsroom positions, even though there’s no guarantee it’ll amount to a hill of beans since, like I said, even before newspapers began suffering, people only needed us journalists when they needed us.

But at least with more support we’ll be able to stay in the game.

Now, pass the other turkey and dressing. Happy Thanksgiving. 

Whitten has been editor of the Bryan County News for many a year. It has yet to turn him into a newt. He thinks.

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