Sadie Fowler

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Sadie Fowler is a former editor of the Times-Gazette; she now works with Dabora Inc. in Shelbyville. Reach her at sadiekillian@yahoo.com.

T-G: We're all about community

Thursday, October 10, 2013

In celebrating National Newspaper Week each year, the Tennessee Press Association shares with its member papers a variety of items for use with the goal of reminding us all of the value of a good newspaper.

I was delighted to see this year's theme focus on one of the industry's biggest assets -- community news.

The news industry is constantly changing -- newspaper organizations are required to adjust, expand and find new ways every day to connect with and meet the needs of their readers -- all while running a business, competing with other things that attract our attention (such as Facebook), and upholding their duty to citizens.

I'll admit, there are days when the task seems daunting.

But this year's theme gives newspapers like the Times-Gazette -- community newspapers -- a reason to boast; a reason to be proud. One of my newspaper idols Jim Zachary (see Zachary's column on this page) wrote an inspiring piece in honor of this week that captures the essence of why small, community papers remain strong.

I first heard Zachary, a newspaper veteran (who champions the cause of reporting the news -- all of it -- and leaving no voice unheard) speak at a conference a few years ago. I left with so much energy that I couldn't wait to return to Shelbyville and share with my news staff all I had heard.

Some of what Zachary said reminded me of things we could be doing better -- mainly things like looking beyond meeting agendas, writing more in-depth features that bring about real change to real people, and not taking submitted items like press releases for face value. In short, I wondered if maybe we should and could be doing more.

Zachary shared a story about when he was editor at a very small Tennessee newspaper and decided to get out on the beat with his reporters. He was at a school board meeting when the discussion took a turn that made some board members uncomfortable. One of the board members, in jest, turned toward Jim and his reporter and chuckled, "Ya'll, now don't put this in the paper, ya hear..."

I'm not sure what the topic was, but guess what the headline was in the next day's paper?

I'm sure folks in that community argued for days about whether that was the right call or the wrong call (if it was Zachary making the call I'm certain it had merit) -- but no one could argue it wasn't gutsy.

But there's another more important half to this equation that made me feel as if we at the T-G have been hitting home runs. Part of the reason community papers thrive is because they focus on the little things that, turns out, are really pretty big things.

Chances are, if you call the T-G with news about an upcoming event, it's probable that you'll see us there. Just last weekend, we covered six events from dawn 'til dusk on Saturday.

There are about 45,000 people in Bedford County and six reporters plus me who believe your pancake suppers, high school football games, and historic cruise-ins are as important as you do. Most of us in the newsroom have deep local roots and we believe in celebrating all this community offers, from school honor rolls to wedding announcements to fish fries.

(This doesn't mean we don't cover the hard news as well, but our focus is and should be on the interactive and community aspects of our paper.)

Though our staff is small, we've actually grown to a point where we've even hired a photographer (Jim Davis) whose sole mission is to capture hundreds and hundreds of photos each week to spotlight the many treasured aspects of our community, from kids at the park to the birthday parties at nursing homes. (Find his galleries weekly at t-g.com.)

One thing I've learned over the past few years is what it takes to survive in a newsroom is thick skin. Though there's nothing better than a warm call from an appreciative reader who loved the Sunday feature that week, I also realize you can't make everyone happy all the time. I received a few calls this week from disappointed readers who felt like their school had received less coverage of their homecoming activities than other schools. "Why were our photos in the back of the paper, on black and white pages?"

After explaining that this time of year is extremely busy with activities -- that our intent was not to give one school better placement over the other, and that I'm mindful of their concerns -- I sat back and found the positive in the complaints. These folks care about their kids so much that they want to see them ... in the local newspaper. That's inspiring to me.

In looking ahead, we are committed to printing news and features that matter to our traditional readers while striving to keep the interest of those precious faces and names you see each week in Small Talk, Half Pints and school honor rolls.

With our diverse, devoted and skilled team, I'm confident we're positioned to remain not just a relevant source to our county -- but the most relevant.

-- Sadie Fowler is editor of the Times-Gazette and may be reached at sfowler@t-g.com.