Nobody’s yelling at me, yet

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Commentary by Clif Lusk

Barely 48 hours into my new role as the Times’ editor, I’m far from settled into my job and environs – I’m not sure where everything in the building is located, and for that matter, I’m not sure I know where the building is located.

I’m so green on things Demopolis, I don’t even qualify as a sprout yet.

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With a little heat, a little rain and a little fertilizer, I’m sure I’ll grow on Demopolis like a vine.

Until that happens, though, I’ll just hang around and try to learn how to navigate my new city.

Where I’m not green (some folks might even say I’m “ripe”) is in community newspapering.

I firmly believe that a growing city needs – and even demands – a strong community newspaper, and that newspaper ought to be a mirror of the community, showing the good along with the bad, but always giving us an accurate portrait of our lives and living in our communities.

I believe that because I’ve seen communities where strong local newspapers have been the glue to hold things together. I’ve been there to see what happens when a community doesn’t have a strong paper as well. It’s not a pretty sight.

Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, made a statement in his autobiography Confessions of an SOB, that has stuck with me about community newspapers.

Paraphrasing, Neuharth said that whether or not a person agrees with a newspaper, or supports a newspaper, invariably, “they call it ‘my’ newspaper.”

The community has a stake in the newspaper. It records its births, spreads word of its deaths, shares its tragedies and celebrates its triumphs.

As editor, my job is to make sure the newspaper does those things every day it’s published.

Some days, of course, are better than others.

Jonathan McElvy, our president and publisher, and the rest of the folks down at the Times have been awfully good to me so far (I’m into my second day here in the office and nobody’s yelled at me or shot at me, so I’m justified in that statement).

Invariably, however, somebody will yell at me about something. That’s part and parcel of this business.

My goal, like any journalist’s, is to provide a clear, concise and accurate story for our readers.

If I do that, then I’ve accomplished something good not only for the newspaper, but for the community as well.

I’ve hung my hat for the past year or so in Troy (the city, not the university) as managing editor of our sister paper, The Messenger. Before that, I was in Mississippi. I’m still trying to learn all things Alabama. As did the folks in Troy, you’ll have to forgive me for messing up a few things – I continuously say “I’m going to the board meeting” when I mean city council or county commission meeting, for example.

I call the state examiner “the state auditor,” but that’s not as bad as calling the governor “Bob” instead of “Governor” in a press conference. At least it was in his office in the Capitol with only two other newspapers and, oh, four TV stations there.

Like I said, some are good days, some are bad days.

I’m excited about being in Demopolis, and I’m looking forward to working with The Times staff to give our readers a newspaper that is a bright mirror for our region and our families.