Get Adobe Flash player

Staff Editorials

Georgia newspapers alive and kicking

We recently wrapped up a subscription drive offering a 9mm carbine rifle as the main prize and saw our total circulation remain a very stable, 6,300 for our print, plus another 300 who pay to read the paper online. Daily usage at our free website is all over the board depending on what news is breaking.

Our print readers are down from our peak. As a comparison when north Georgia was booming and the internet was still in its infancy, the highest circulation we ever reached was around 8,000. We wish we were still there but, unlike what befall some of the daily papers, the weeklies have remained pretty strong. The difference is weeklies serve a population that relies on local papers and reporters to tell what was happening down the road while the mid-sized dailies were too-often full of national news which could easily be found online.

The Progress is not unusual as a weekly, holding its own in the face of online news, fake news and general doomsday predictions about the print industry. A survey of Georgians conducted by American Opinion Research in 2016 found most, non-metro weeklies are doing well.

Here’s a few of the survey results, which was commissioned by the Ga. Press Association:

•  Georgia newspaper products have a wide reach. Two-thirds of all adults, more than 4.7 million people, read a printed newspaper or access a newspaper website during an average week. 

• Newspapers and their websites are the most used source of local news and information. 34 percent of respondents said the newspaper is their prime source of information (26 percent in the metro area; 43 percent outside the metro area).

Georgia consumers rely on printed newspapers and their websites more than any other source for local sales and shopping information, in both the Atlanta metro area and the rest of the state. (In the metro area, 30 percent of respondents said that the newspaper was their top choice for advertising information; this jumps to 41 percent outside the metro area).

On average, two adults read each copy of a weekly newspaper.

• More than 1.3 million Georgia adults use a newspaper website daily, almost 2.8 million during an average week.

• Almost six-in-10 readers (59%) keep their newspapers three days or longer, almost four-in-10 (38%) keep it until the next issue arrives. The average shelf-life: 2.8 days.

If you are surprised by these figures, realize that the survey also found: 


• Newspapers do a very poor job at marketing themselves and their content. Very little has been done by the industry to correct the idea that print was doomed.

 

At the Progress, like any business, we wish we had a few more regular customers (both advertisers and subscribers). But we will guarantee that the idea that newspapers are dying off in rural areas is utter nonsense.

The April 27th edition of the Progress marked our 130th year of publication. Who knows if we’ll get another 130, that’s a mighty long time and things do change (not nearly as quickly as big cities like to think), but we’re confident that we won’t be going anywhere too soon.

We appreciate the community support here and are proud to be your hometown source of news.

 

Business comings and goings

We believe a couple of business stories deserve some comment.

First, the city council/planning commission recently approved a rezoning on Highway 53 at a busy intersection (where Wendy’s and Bojangles sit). Note, they did not approve a restaurant there, as even the most activist liberal does not want government to have the ability to decide on a specific business. What they approved was a zoning that could allow a restaurant or another business or whatever the owner wants to build as long as it’s legal and meets the zoning codes. It was openly discussed that another fast food place is looking at the spot, but technically the owner did not have to reveal what business would locate there -- just as long as it meets the zoning requested.

Based on several online comments, there is a mistaken and dangerous belief that  government has the right and ability to pick what comes to town -- as though Jasper’s mayor has a stack of applications and he chose a fast food restaurant over a high-tech start-up.

In this case, we would encourage our city to look at an already busy intersection and see how it can be improved and if the new business may need to adapt to prevent traffic chaos.

Government does have the duty of setting land use standards. But it is solely up to entrepreneurs on what actually develops.

Second, we recently ran a story that there is actually not a restaurant committed to the prominent building on the corner of Main and Church streets downtown. We didn’t set out to report a non-event. We set out to confirm public statements during a meeting that a big-time Atlanta restaurant was about to open shop. Turns out they aren’t ready to commit, though they are looking at it. Our intention wasn’t to embarrass those that ran with the comments as though they were fact. One Facebook group went so far as to post what they said would be the restaurant’s name and give an opening timeline. We simply felt a duty to correct the misinformation.

This is the second time this year we reported a business was not coming. We also publicly noted that Publix has not applied for any permits, has not met with any officials concerning infrastructure, nor shown any official sign they are eying a local spot. Maybe they too will open here one day, but circulating reports at that time were pure speculation.

After the debacle of the great water park hype (of which we were guilty ourselves of not showing more skepticism), we aren’t going to rush to print statements about a business opening without solid confirmation – something official as in plans or permits.

Fancy drawings and Facebook posts are titillating, but permits, infrastructure plans and construction work is the real deal. 

Third, looking ahead, the Jasper mayor told us he is planning to broach a needed, but potentially thorny, subject. Officially, the city has an ordinance keeping beer, wine and liquor sellers and churches a certain distance from each other. The ordinance is no longer practical. According to a recent conversation with the mayor, the city council will be asked to revise it.

If someone were rigidly enforcing the code, there are two churches/ministries in downtown Jasper now. The religious folks have not asked for any enforcement but their presence could be a challenge should a new restaurant want to come.

The mayor said he was aware of one other situation where someone has rented part of an office to a church that sits near an existing restaurant selling beer. Yet another situation we are aware of is a forthcoming church next to a store that has sold beer for decades.

The mayor explained that when the code was written, churches meant brick buildings with steeples and it made more sense. Now new churches form and meet in all sorts of places and don’t appear perturbed by nearby restaurants that have beer and wine. 

If no one is asking for the enforcement it seems best to loosen it up. The existing code could create an enforcement challenge with some churches and alcohol sellers already good neighbors -- with good fences presumably.

 

Earlier school bells deserve big fat F

Last week,  new school superintendent Carlton Wilson asked for public input into possible new start times for the county’s schools. The proposed plan could roll the school bell back to 7:30 a.m. for middle and high school students, a full hour earlier than the CDC and many pediatricians and sleep experts recommend.

According to sleep scientist Wendy Troxel’s recent TED talk, sleep deprivation among American teenagers is an epidemic. She, the American Academy of Pediatricians, the CDC, sleep experts, and countless others recommend not starting school before 8:30 a.m.

Only about one in 10 teens gets the eight to 10 hours of sleep per night recommended by sleep scientists and pediatricians. And for those who say we’re doing good because our kid gets eight hours, Troxel reminds us that that’s the minimum. “Eight hours is kind of like getting a C on your report card.”

Troxel says public policy and early start times is a major factor preventing teens from getting the sleep they need. 

And, according to these researchers, there is a reason teens like to stay up late and it’s not Snapchat.

“As children approach and go through puberty, their brains begin producing the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin on a delayed schedule, making it difficult for them to feel tired before 11 p.m. This means that waking a teenager up at 6 a.m. is the biological equivalent of waking an adult up at 4 a.m.,” she said.

It turns out, those teen brains really are different than adults.

When adults have to get up at 4 a.m., it leaves us looking like cast members from The Walking Dead for the entire day. This is what our teens would experience every school day if school times are dramatically changed to 7:30 a.m. from the current 8:10 a.m. 

Many students face long bus rides, meaning they must arise considerably earlier than the start times; moving it up another 40 minutes will see more kids arrive looking exhausted before the learning ever begins.

Chronic sleep loss among teenagers has been associated with poor school performance and a higher risk for depressive symptoms, obesity, cardiovascular problems, risk-taking behaviors and athletic injuries. According to a recent Time magazine article, research suggests that delaying the start of the school day can reduce automobile accidents caused by sleepy teen drivers. In one 2008 study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, crash rates fell by 16.5% in the two years after a school district shifted its start times an hours later, compared to the two years before. 

Teens attending schools with later start times are more likely to show up for school; school absences dropped by 25 percent in one surveyed district. And they’re less likely to drop out. Not surprisingly, they do better academically.

Standardized test scores in math and reading go up by 2-3 percentage points, according to the Time article. 

The reasons for possible earlier starts cited by the local school administration  - students leaving class early for extra-curricular activities or needing to get to work - stack up poorly when looking at the prevailing trends in education and the research involving student health and grades.

“Getting enough sleep is important for students’ health, safety, and academic performance,” says Anne Wheaton, Ph.D., lead author and epidemiologist in CDC’s Division of Population Health. “Early school start times, however, are preventing many adolescents from getting the sleep they need.”

If middle- and high-school students are allowed to wake up later in the morning, they’ll be more focused during the day, more alert behind the wheel and less likely to miss school.

To comment on the school’s survey, see pickenscountyschools.org.

 

Stop texting and driving to save some lives

A Progress employee came into the office last week and recounted a bad wreck she’d seen the day before. A young woman failed to shift her vehicle when the lanes shifted on Highway 575, and she ran into a concrete barricade.

The first thing we suspected was that the girl was texting -- why else would someone drive straight into a wall? Even if there was another explanation the fact we immediately assumed she had been is an indication of how rampant texting and driving has become - even though it’s illegal in Georgia, and even though it’s killing a record number of people on our roads. With the busy summer driving season unfolding, and lots of teens behind the wheel, let’s please please please stop texting while we’re driving and save some lives.  

According to the GDOT, fatalities on Georgia's roads are up a staggering 33 percent over the past two years, which is more than four people who die every day. In 2016, there were 1,559 fatalities, that’s 127 more than in 2015. The state agency launched the DriveAlert ArriveAlive safety campaign to address this startling increase in deaths. Distracted driving is  now killing more people than drinking and driving. In fact, texting while driving is six times more likely to cause an accident than drinking while driving. 

Here are a few other striking stats: 

•The National Safety Council reports that cell phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million crashes each year.

•1 out of every 4 car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving. 

•Answering a text takes away your attention for about five seconds. Traveling at 55 mph, that's enough time to travel the length of an entire football field.

The numbers are frightening, but we’re not surprised. It seems like you can’t go a day without another motorist drifting into your lane only to abruptly correct themselves last minute. 

And we’ve all probably been the motorist doing the texting and almost had an accident ourselves, then vowed never to text and drive again (then a few days later that phone dings while you are on the road and all is forgotten). 

Texting and driving has been illegal in Georgia since 2010 and there is technology in place that allows for “hands-free” or restricted use, but with the number of distracted driving fatalities related to cell phone use so high and no improvement in sight, the law and the technology are obviously not changing people’s behavior. 

A recent survey showed that while 98% of drivers think texting while driving is dangerous, 66% admit to doing it themselves. Why can’t we stop if we know it kills? 

One problem is that texting has addictive qualities, which makes it compulsory and hard to stop. A New York Times article cites a study of 400 eighth and 11th graders that “found that many teenage texters had a lot in common with compulsive gamblers, including losing sleep because of texting, problems cutting back on texting and lying to cover up the amount of time they spent texting.”

We know from police and sheriff’s officers that the texting law is difficult to enforce. So in addition to possible fines if caught, the problem is also going to take a major shift in our public thinking and some self-control on our part. 

Remember when it was okay to smoke in a doctor’s office or throw your kid in the car with no seatbelt? Most people wouldn’t dream of doing those things these days. Over time, we’ve realized that things we once considered perfectly fine aren’t, and texting and driving should be one of them. It’s not okay and you know it deep down -- so don’t do it.

The next time your phone is in the passenger’s seat and puts off that little “ding,” muster up some will power and leave it there until you pull over.

Graduates: There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy

Ah, graduation. It’s the time of year in every student’s life (and their parent’s lives) to become reflective, to celebrate, and maybe even panic a little.

Saturday will mark the  annual graduation ceremony at Pickens High School where a couple of hundred seniors will flip their tassels to mark they are no longer high school students but rather young adults ready to take on the world. Whether they are heading off to college or straight into the big, bad workforce, this time of year there is no shortage of advice.

Celebrity commencement speeches at colleges and universities across the nation are ripe with the standard “follow your dreams” and “don’t be afraid to fail.” All good pieces of advice, of course, but sometimes the most sage advice comes from those who look at the world a bit differently than the rest of us - comedians.

There’s a lot of wisdom in comedy and sometimes the best comedians are serious and sometimes just seriously funny. 

 

“Try putting your iPhones down every once in a while and look at people’s face.” Amy Poehler, Harvard University, 2011

“You guys are millennials, which is the biggest generation in U.S. history. I thought it was hard for me to find a job. It’s going to be like The Hunger Games out there for you.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015

 

“Work hard, be kind, and amazing things will happen.” Conan O’Brien

 

“Follow your passion, stay true to yourself, never follow someone else’s path unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path then by all means you should follow that.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“It was so important for me to lose everything because I found what the most important thing is. The most important thing is to be true to yourself.” Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane University, 2009

 

“So how do you know what is the right path to choose to get the result that you desire? The honest answer is this: You won’t.” Jon Stewart, College of William and Mary, 2004

 

“On behalf of frogs, fish, pigs, bears and all of the other species who are lower than you on the food chain, thank you for dedicating your lives to saving our world and our home.” Kermit the Frog, Southampton College, 1996

 

“You are the nerds who are going to make some serious bank, which is why I am here today... to marry the best-looking amongst you.” Mindy Kaling, Harvard Law School, 2014

 

Today you begin the next phase of your life. Whether it’s college, a job, or a program abroad where you build a schoolhouse for underprivileged children while hooking up with each other.” Eugene Mirman, 2009 high school commencement speech

“You can’t do it alone. As you navigate through the rest of your life be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you. Spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life. No one is here today because they did it on their own. You’re all here because someone helped you. Someone gave you strength, helped you, held you. God, Allah, Buddha, Gaga. Whomever you pray to.” Amy Poehler, Harvard, 2011 

 

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it. You have to go down the chute.” Tina Fey

“As you go out in the world you’ll find that people are always quick to define you, to pigeonhole you, to whittle you down to their pre-conceived notions. Never let others define you, define yourselves.” Ed Helms, University of Virginia, 2015