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It Takes a Community To Support Community Journalism

Well, as you may have heard, Kathy Prescott and Grady Thrasher teamed up with UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication to create The Rollin M. “Pete” McCommons Award for Distinguished Community Journalism. Thanks to Grady and Kathy’s underwriting, the award will be given every year from now on to somebody who has demonstrated distinguished community journalism. And get this: The inaugural award was presented last Friday afternoon to Rollin M. “Pete” McCommons, i.e. moi.

Now, y’all: After almost 50 years making up community journalism as we go along, getting this award from the Grady College is like being certified. It is huge. I am honored and humbled and grateful to Grady College and Grady Thrasher and Kathy Prescott. Thank you! Thank you!

PubNotes-ThePetebodyReflection-JasonThrasher.jpg

Photo Credit: Jason Thrasher

Reflections in a silver urn: Can you spot Kathy Prescott, Grady Thrasher and Jason Thrasher (no relation)? Thanks, Larry Tenner.

I responded Friday with a few remarks. Having spent the better part of two weeks trying to figure out what one should say on such an occasion, I stumbled to the podium and kind of launched into a stream-of-consciousness recitation about the various community journalistic vehicles that through the years have carried us to this moment of recognition. In chronological order, this litany encompasses The United Free Press (1970), The Athens Observer (1974), Observer Television (1982), Tasty World Magazine (1984) and Flagpole Magazine (1987—I joined up in 1994).

My peroration was apparently well received, and I was relieved to have said something interesting without too much hemming and hawing. But attempting to cover almost 50 years of community journalism without benefit of notes inevitably means that I skipped some of the most important people, who should have been included in the account. For instance, I praised the Observer’s (and Flagpole’s) “full-service attorney” David Griffeth for winning a landmark open-records decision in the Georgia Supreme Court, but I neglected to mention John Toon, who as an Observer reporter braved a confrontation with a mathematics professor/black-belt karate practitioner to write the stories that triggered the court decision. John was there Friday, having driven over from Atlanta, where he heads up publications for Georgia Tech.

Nor did I mention Lee Shearer, still an ace reporter for the Athens Banner-Herald, who was a stalwart at the Observer and even took pictures for Tasty World. I also left out the late Phil Sanderlin, the legendary Observer writer, and Ed Tant, who wrote for both the Observer and Flagpole before becoming a regular at the Banner-Herald.

In my remarks Friday, I was trying to make the point that it takes a community to support community journalism. A prime example of this corollary is Bucky Redwine, the banker-about-town who contributed his wit and wisdom to the Observer and to Observer Television.

And, in mentioning the glory days of news at WUGA 91.7/94.5 FM, I called out Mary Kay Mitchell and David Bryant but overlooked Robb Holmes, sitting right in front of me, who was Mr. 91.7 for many years in many capacities.

By the time my narrative reached the Flagpole period, it was all running together in my mind, and I left out the most important element in why it takes a community to do this stuff: our advertisers, who support community journalism with their hard-earned money. They accomplish this with the skillful guidance of Flagpole’s cool and hardworking ad reps, Anita Aubrey and Jessica Mangum, who sell Flagpole because they believe in it and understand as well as anybody how Flagpole fits into our community.

The esteemed historian and Flagpole contributor Jim Cobb was there Friday. He’s typical of so many here who contribute their expertise to community journalism—people through the years like Dean William Tate, John and Miriam Talmadge, Bob West, Marion Montgomery, Eugene Wilkes, William Orten Carlton, John Seawright, Dave Marr, Ben Emanuel, Michelle Davis and so many more.

And, oh yes, in my hurry to wrap it all up, I failed to mention the primo purveyor of community journalism practicing in Athens today: none other than Flagpole City Editor Blake Aued, who keeps us all in the loop.

This could go on ad infinitum, but the point is that the people who filled the reception Friday personify this community that supports journalism. They have advertised, written, photographed, filmed, broadcast, performed, taught, acted, painted, run for office, given their time and their money and in so many other ways made Athens such a great place to pursue community journalism. For recognizing all this, Alicia Nickles and I, Flagpole partners for 20 years, thank Grady, Kathy and Grady!

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