Gordon Gazette Opinion

OPINION: Tuesday’s events in our community help explain the statistics of why newspapers have died

Brandi Owczarz, Owner/Publisher

Gordon Gazette

Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019

In December 2018, Pew Research, the non-partisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world, came out with their statistics on what platforms U.S. adults use often to get their news.

 

In December 2018, television was still the number one way that adults got their news, coming in at 49 percent, but that number was down 8 percent from 2016. Coming in second was news websites, like the Gordon Gazette, which came in at 33 percent, up 5 percent since 2016.  Third place was radio, which held steady around 26 percent, seeing no real gains or losses in the two years. Making a 2 percent jump over 2016 was social media, which drives news from websites and is used for quick dissemination of news to the public, especially emergency alerts, coming in at 20 percent. And at the bottom of the barrel, declining four percent since 2016 was print newspapers, where only 16 percent of U.S. adults get their news.

 

But honestly, the numbers aren’t surprising - that online mediums are making gains isn’t rocket science. When was the last time you sent your photos to be printed, or pulled a photo out of your purse to show someone? When was the last time your child brought home a book for homework?

Everything is going digital and online. The convenience of smart phones and tablets, plus the added benefit of communication through internet, have made newsprint basically obsolete, with the nail in the coffin being the lack of ability to report news in a timely manner. According to the Pew Research report, the internet and

social media’s edge over print has emerged after what they call steady declines in newspaper circulation, especially among smaller, community papers.

 

Take the events from Tuesday night in Calhoun-Gordon County, for instance. Around 7 p.m., a scanner call indicated that a person had been hit by a train on the north end of town. Sirens filled the air as Calhoun Police, Gordon County Sheriff deputies and some fire personnel flew to the scene. At almost the same time, LifeForce was being called concerning a boy who had been injured playing ball (the boy is fine, by the way). Alerts from the Gordon Gazette went out to the public through social media, which is the number one way to alert the public in emergency situations, alerts to use caution on the north end of town while first responders arrived on scene.

 

Seconds count in news. With social media, readers can get alerts on their phones of anything posted on a social media page. Think about severe weather alerts, traffic alerts and breaking news…it’s kind of hard to alert the public about these things in a timely manner days after they occur, but that’s what happens in newsprint. And I also notice that with a lot of newsprint, stories are old…a lot of times very old – it’s basically just regurgitation of online news that’s been out for at least a week, if not longer. We're constantly seeing regurgitation of our stories...sometimes news that we previously reported more than a month prior.

Another thing that is attributed to causing newsprint to die is a change in their business culture. In the good old days, local newspapers were owned locally and had local staff that were always available, day or night to serve the public, but that’s not the case anymore. Now, most community newspapers are owned by a larger corporation, located miles and miles away from the community, and operates many newspapers. Corporations who do not understand the local community, nor do they invest in the local community.

 

According to Pew, in 2004, there were 65,440 reporters and editors working at newspapers around the country. In 2016, there were 41,400. That’s a 37 percent drop in just over a decade. And that impact has been felt most deeply in local community newspapers. So the community newspaper industry has become a revolving door of anybodies who will take the almost minimum-wage journalism job to report the news in the small community that they aren’t even familiar with, much less live in. And I promise you, in the Calhoun-Gordon County community, the importance of having local journalists who live in the community they serve is paramount.  

 

Add to those things mentioned above, the skyrocketing costs of printing a paper, where costs are increasing sometimes as much as 30 percent a year, and lots of corners end up being cut to be able to produce a newspaper.

You know, corners like wanting to please everyone so much that you refuse to do investigative journalism and expose issues and problems, or making pacts in secret meetings to cover up shady activities of those running government organizations, or promising to make someone look good with extra columns to help them cover up shady activities. Hint: Anytime you see a series of columns talking about the wonderful things someone is doing where there has been shady activity in the past, that's a news organization helping with a cover up. The print newspaper business is so desperate to stop the bleed they’ll do and promise anything except cover the real news.

 

But even though the final nails are being hammered into the coffin of newsprint, this is in no way the death of journalism, which is alive and well in local communities across the country thanks to the internet and social media. It’s easier than ever to put out good, accurate, informative stories and news in efficient time, especially when the journalists are embedded in the community they serve. The overhead to operate is peanuts compared to newsprint, the deadlines are whenever you can publish your story online, there’s still fact checking and reports and interviews for accuracy and there’s so much less stress. Oh, and most importantly, there’s exposing and investigation – no hiding the shady going on. It’s exciting and rewarding working in online news.

 

And for the old school folks who say they like to “clip” newspapers to keep scrapbooks, nothing gives me more pleasure than seeing someone print a page of our E-Edition and put it in their scrapbook…it’s so much brighter, looks so much better and is a lot less messy than newsprint.

 

Brandi Owczarz is the owner/publisher/editor/news writer/janitor of the Gordon Gazette, Calhoun-Gordon County’s #1 Source of News and the only locally staffed news agency in Gordon County. Make sure to follow the Gordon Gazette on social media: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to get your community news in a timely manner.

OPINION: Who is the Gordon Gazette, and how did it come about? 

Brandi Owczarz, Owner/Publisher

Gordon Gazette

Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2018

It is said that the backbone of any free society is an independent press – reporting agencies that fight to keep transparency of government and its elected officials. The job of a local community press is to inform, criticize and open debate on local news and goings-on in the community.

So the question(s) I’ve received the most this past month is: Who is the Gordon Gazette and why are they here and how did they come about?

Glad you asked. The Gordon Gazette is owned and operated by me - Brandi Owczarz. I was the managing editor of another news agency in the community, serving in that position for several years. I am known for being nosy and pushing buttons and getting to the bottom of things, no matter how much bad news it brings.

The way the Gordon Gazette came about is due to the shutting down of investigative journalism at my former news agency by being told we had to halt investigating the complaints we were receiving on the Gordon County School System. For those not familiar, I began reporting on that in late March of this year, 2018, after several “shady” things were brought to light in a called Board meeting, the big topic being the waiving, or “lowering” of standards for hiring teachers and leadership positions within the school system. I also wrote a couple of columns about what I was learning as I was investigating and the columns did not paint a flattering picture on the leadership or several school board members.

On Tuesday, May 22, the publisher of my former company received an email from an "average citizen" in Gordon County by the name of Skipper Stewart. I was sent the email by the publisher. Stewart had concerns about one of the editorials I had written and wanted to meet with the publisher, and bring along Gordon County Schools Superintendent Susan Remillard, Gordon County Board of Education Chair Chris Johnson and Board member Bobby Hall. Stewart said that several comments in the editorial were made that resulted in “morale issues throughout our schools and community,” and hoped the publisher could “help ease the rhetoric.”

 

For those who may not know, that average citizen by the name of Skipper Stewart just happens to be the father-in-law of Gordon County Board of Education member Dana Stewart. 

 

Skipper Stewart requested the meeting just as two other members lost their position on the school board after my opinion piece called for a total flip of the Board in the 2018 election cycle. I admit, I did say in that column that to fix the problems in the leadership of the school system, Dana Stewart needed to be voted off of the school board. In 2018, Dana Stewart only had a Democratic challenger; she ran as a Republican.

The meeting between the publisher, Skipper Stewart, the two board members Chris Johnson and Bobby Hall and Superintendent Remillard took place on Tuesday, May 29. I had originally been invited to the meeting, but since it was scheduled during a deadline (how convenient), I could not attend. Also of note, there were four other members on the Board of Education who, to my knowledge, were not invited to the meeting, but I'm not sure if they were aware of the meeting.

After their meeting, the publisher met with me on Wednesday, May 30, in a meeting just between the two of us. Because we were the only ones in the meeting, and to make sure I totally understood the marching orders going forward, I audio recorded the meeting.

 

In that meeting, I was told the following things:

1.  The meeting between the publisher and the school board members, the superintendent and Skipper Stewart lasted about an hour, and that everything the school system was doing, that I had been questioning in my columns, was legal by law because of their charter status. As long as there is student improvement in the school system, they are operating within the confines of the law due to being a Charter System.

2.  Because of lack of resources within the company, the news agency did not do investigative reporting, and I was no longer allowed to investigate for stories, any stories, but especially the school system.

3.  Also, I could no longer write opinion columns unless they were approved by the publisher.

The publisher went on to say he felt like there was more of a failure of communication within the school system because of their lack of a true communications representative, and that all of the complaints I was receiving from current and former employees of the school system (and there were dozens, if not hundreds of them) were mostly disgruntled people using the news agency to do their dirty work for them; that the people complaining do not want to go before the school board with their issues so they were just using me to stir up trouble. I was told that if the disgruntled employees/former employees were to take their complaints before a school board meeting, I could report on that, but not to investigate further. The meeting between the publisher and the school representatives ended with him telling them the news agency was not their enemy, that the news agency was their friend. 

The publisher ended his meeting with me by saying that he wanted to sit down with me and Superintendent Remillard to discuss all of this. He told me he offered the superintendent the opportunity to run an editorial piece, and one of his final statements was that the superintendent and school board understood what the (news agency) meant to the community.

The meeting between the publisher and I lasted around 35 minutes, and it wasn’t harsh; it was very calm and I really didn’t say a whole lot. I was, however, thinking a whole lot, and my thoughts were, “I can’t work in a place that will not let me report what’s going on and that will not let me look into complaints from the community.”

The saying goes, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” And there was enough smoke with the school system that there was definitely a fire somewhere. In a nutshell, I feel like I was being asked to cover up things that were going on. And I could not in good conscious do that.

After that part of the meeting was over, he explained to me that around prep football time (the busiest and most hectic time of the year), the company was going to take away my layout duties and send them to corporate in the Atlanta area. You may as well have just shut the place down, because that was the nail in the coffin in having true community news. It’s bad enough I was being dictated on what I could and couldn’t report, now the agency is having its identity taken away and given to a corporate headquarters that was trying to make all of their news agencies look just alike. You just can’t do that with a small community news agency.

 

The first amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech and freedom of the press to protect the public - the citizens of the community - by keeping government accountable. The job of any credible news agency is to dispense information to readers, so they can decipher the information for themselves, not withhold the information from the community…especially when it comes to local government and elected officials. And to say that a news agency can’t investigate, for whatever reason, takes away those rights provided in the Constitution.

That night, I began thinking of starting my own news agency because of my love of, and loyalty for, this community. And luckily for me, one of the greatest co-workers I’ve ever had decided to turn in her notice at the end of August, and that opened the door to the Gordon Gazette.

On my co-worker’s last day, I posted on my personal Facebook account that she was the best co-worker ever and she was going to be missed. I posted that her boss had become sick earlier this year and that the powers that be decided to replace her boss with someone who wanted to totally shake up her job duties and that our co-worker didn’t like the changes. I added that none of the employees agreed with the changes that were taking place, and that our co-worker, who was making peanuts compared to the work she did, had decided to take a better job for more money and that I wished her the best.

Nothing I posted was a lie. It was all 100 percent true. And the publisher came in the following day, a Thursday afternoon, and terminated my employment due to that Facebook post.

When it happened, I actually chuckled. I have never felt such a relief in my life. Here I was, putting in at least 50 hours a week, making peanuts myself (because I wasn’t paid by the hour), and trying to begin my own news agency and they had just made my dream possible!

To tell you how dumb the powers that be at that agency were, it wasn't too long after I left that they ended up firing the "new boss" of my former co-worker, because she was as horrible and clueless as I said she was.

As they say, the rest is history and the Gordon Gazette came to be the weekend after I was let go. And it’s been a blast having the freedom to cover what I need to cover and providing our community with the news they expect.

Brandi Owczarz is the owner/publisher/editor/news writer/janitor of the Gordon Gazette, Calhoun-Gordon County’s #1 Source of News and the only locally owned and staffed news agency in Gordon County. Make sure to follow the Gordon Gazette on social media: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, to get your community news in a timely manner.