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Staff Editorials

A journalist’s list about what-not-to-say lists

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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“How to Talk to Artists at Art Festivals – The Do’s and Don’ts (Warning: You’ve probably been guilty of at least one of the don’ts…)” 

This article popped up in my News Feed over the weekend and reminded me of the hundreds of other “What Not to Say to a (fill in the blank)” lists on the internet. The general tone of most of them is snarky, but it’s snark veiled as an informative piece to educate people about proper etiquette.

Here are a few examples if you’re not familiar:

•From the “How to Talk to Artists at Art Festivals” list of what not to ask:

How did you make that? 

“There is a fine line with this one,” the author responds, “as it’s all about the context. Often, this question is asked with the intention of, ‘I’ll go home and make one just like it!’ Which is obviously not good for the artist. Inquiring about the artist’s process (i.e.: ‘Tell me about your process.’) is ok.”

•From “15 Worst Things You Could Say to Your Bartender” list:

I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I don’t want anything fruity. I don’t like beer. I’m allergic to wine. What do you suggest?

“Water. They sell it by the bottle at the gas station. Go outside, to the left, and keep walking.”

In light of this popular but frustrating online genre, I thought I’d come up with my own list to see how it feels. I’ll include plenty of snark and a few smug suggestions for the full effect.

Things You Should Never Say to a Journalist.

#1 - “Can I read the article before it goes to print?” 

No, you can’t read it. It’s against company policy and if you read it you’ll want to change all your comments, probably the good ones, and it’ll take me twice as long to finish. Try instead: I can’t wait to see it when it’s printed.  

#2 - You don’t have to tell me something is “off the record” if we’re talking about what you had for dinner last night. I’m not going to write a story about your pot roast.  

#3 - Did you get all that? Can you remember all that?

  Yes, I got it. Actually, wait. I’ll probably forget it by the time I get to the office and write something you’ll be embarrassed about.    

See. My list makes me sound like a jerk and the truth is those things don’t really bother me. It’s part of the job. Shouldn’t adults be able to handle people not being Emily Post in every situation? 

As for people not “understanding me as a writer” - like people may not understand the plight of the artist or bartender – I typically assume this is the case. I assume people don’t know how many hours I spend at meetings or doing research to get one 600-word story, because why would they?   

My suspicion is that these lists are like trade magazines and are read primarily by members of the niche group (artist, bartender) more than they are by the intended audience. But if I’m wrong, instead of keeping insensitive, obtuse comments at bay they create an atmosphere of fear. 

Instead of saying something insensitive, which may very well have been unintentional, people might decide not to communicate at all because they don’t want to offend. The last thing I want, especially as a journalist, is for people to be afraid to talk to me openly.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good list (grocery lists, to-do lists, playlists), and study after study shows that the brain responds well to them. 

Umberto Eco told The Atlantic the list “has an irresistible magic” and in cultural history has “prevailed over and over again.” Agreed. 

The problem with these “What Not to Say” lists is that people who write them try to make the world conform to them, rather than that person coping with the complex cast of characters in their daily lives - which includes jerks who say thoughtless things and who probably wouldn’t read their list anyway. 

 

Protecting small town feel crucial for future of county

“Here we are now, 

entertain us” – Nirvana

Rarely in a single survey do you see two paths so clearly defined as with the  743 responses to the community survey that is part of the Comprehensive Plan Update. 

In one place the public said what they most like about Pickens is our small town feel and then what they most wanted to see are more entertainment, shopping, restaurant and career opportunities.

The vision if the views were combined would be a plan to merge Andy Griffith’s Mayberry with Atlantic City.

Facilitators from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission said that 100 responses from a community the size of Pickens is what they normally see -- the response  here was seven times that. It’s admirable that so many people voiced their two-cents-worth and understandably there were diverging views. 

There were also many who likely hold a subtler view that gets distorted in survey results – we like the small town, but need a few more restaurants and places to work.

We encourage those seeking more entertainment/shopping/growth as the highest priorities for our Comprehensive Plan Update to reconsider.

The pro-entertainment advocates are no small group. “Lack of entertainment for all ages” was the top gripe about the county, followed by the related response of “lack of local stores and restaurants” as another area that needs improvement.

The first problem we have with mixing business and government planning is those who seek more growth force bureaucrats to overstep their place. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it indicate the government has any business entertaining people. The idea of governments providing entertainment went out of fashion when the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of too many events at the coliseum. Those hoping the government will provide entertainment should find new hobbies.

We would further argue that the idea that government needs to develop stores and restaurants is also a tenuous proposition. Businesses are solely the decision of entrepreneurs with capital looking to make investments.

It is government’s duty to provide solid infrastructure, good roads and police and fire protection so that the businesses can open and thrive. 

That being said, if the city of Jasper created tax abatements or incentives to get entrepreneurs to choose Jasper over the surrounding areas, it  would be money well spent, particularly if it filled some of the empty buildings. 

Following the old wisdom that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, we encourage our community to follow the second path chosen on the survey – maintain and enhance the pleasant small town atmosphere here.

We are already doing well at this as Pickens County is a great community to call home. Rather than trying to become something we are not, let’s polish our image and improve what we already are.

Like guys who put on hipster clothes to impress friends, going in a new direction is hard, especially when this community has a very pleasant button down image that works for many of the residents.

Eventually we may find that marketing this community as a quiet peaceful place to live is also a successful business model for those who want to see growth. Attract people by touting our great community and some, but hopefully not too much, commercial growth will follow.

For those still hoping the government will create entertainment, we would point out  Atlanta is a short drive away or perhaps they should take up bird-watching.

Make your obituary about the real you

Nobody wants to think about their obituary because it would mean we’ve ceased to be. But all too often that final write-up about our lives has become less about who we are and more about who we leave behind. 

Us common folks should be remembered with the same grace, dignity and interest as celebrities and politicians, perhaps more so in a small community like Pickens. The people on our obituary pages are the people we shared a town with, that we saw at the grocery store or sat by at church.

An obituary can be more than just who in our family remains alive or where we will be laid to rest. An obituary should tell people what we spent our lives doing. You don’t have to be a big shot to get a proper sendoff. You just need to be interesting. And there is something interesting in everyone. 

Sure we may not all have an obituary like that one inseparable couple who had been married for 62 years and died just hours apart or the outdoorsman who survived two attacks by grizzly bears but died peacefully in his own bed (the irony!). Even if we are just the typical southern ladies and gents who enjoyed church meetings and sitting on the porch with a glass of tea, we all have traits or stories that tell readers that our life was well lived. 

Obits are a way to give a person a grand goodbye, even if our own says we had a lifelong love affair with Netflix and Vienna sausages on saltines.

We’d love to see more obits come into the office like William “Freddie” McCullough (he’s not from around here but his obit is widely circulated on legacy sites). Like McCullough, our obits should be true reflections of the lives we’ve lived - whether humorous, sentimental or just plain honest.

McCullough’s obit read:

“The man. The myth. The legend. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. McCullough died on September 11, 2013. Freddie loved deep fried Southern food smothered in Cane Syrup, fishing at Santee Cooper Lake, Little Debbie Cakes, Two and a Half Men, beautiful women, Reese’s Cups and Jim Beam. Not necessarily in that order. He hated vegetables and hypocrites. Not necessarily in that order.”

Or what about Michael “Flathead” Blanchard.

“Weary of reading obituaries noting someone’s courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors’ orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died.”

Another obit, Katherine Collins Lynch, an amateur musician and optometry associate who, at her death, “departed for Heaven without the courtesy of a goodbye notice, and without having prepared one last pot of her much-loved chicken and rice soup.” Her survivors planned to celebrate her homecoming with a “good ol’ sing” around the piano.” “In lieu of flowers, Kathy would rather you buy and fry a pack of extra crispy bacon and enjoy it with your family.”

So we encourage everyone to stop and consider what you want to be said about you when you die and let your relatives know you want them to publicly state that your final request was to be driven through town in a favorite pickup truck or went into the ground dressed in your finest Georgia Bulldog shirt. 

The simple fact is people love reading, sharing and commenting on obituaries. So write something down. Make it personal or bold, funny or not. Just make it about you.

 

Podcasts -- an addictive way to learn, be entertained

By Christie Pool, Staff Writer

I’m addicted to podcasts. They are the perfect companion while taking the dogs for a walk or on a long drive. Podcasts are a great way to learn things – whether news and politics is your thing or storytelling, history, comedy, true crime, health, sports or technology – any subject under the sun and tons of topics you didn’t even know existed. 

For those that don’t know, podcasts are essentially modern radio shows available online and they’ve become ridiculously popular, going from niche to mainstream following the phenomenon of the Serial podcast a few years back.

Google “best podcasts of 2017” and you’ll be shocked at the variety. 

One of the recent hits has been S-Town, a real-life Southern Gothic. What starts out as an investigation by a This American Life journalist into an Alabama man bragging about getting away with murder evolves into a haunting character study of John B. McLemore who gave the initial tip in the investigation.  

For true-crime enthusiasts there are podcasts like Up and Vanished, based right here in Georgia. This podcast examines the 2005 cold case of Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher and beauty queen who disappeared from her apartment in Ocilla, Georgia. The case was never solved and has become “the largest case file in Georgia history.”

Going to the “Top Charts” sections on the iTunes podcasts, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History takes top honors with a 5-star review among more than 11,000 people. The podcast re-examines “something from the past – an event, a person, an idea, even a song – and asks whether we got it right the first time.” 

NPR’s Invisibilia is another cool podcast. It looks at the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions by weaving narrative storytelling with scientific research that will make you see your own life differently.

Not in the mood to consider the deeper meaning of things? There’s no shortage of wonderful comedy shows, including Comedy Bang Bang, Last Podcast on the Left, and 2 Dope Queens. 

A good podcast is like sitting in on an interesting conversation. And like all conversations, some are better than others.

History buffs can try Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Many of the episodes last longer than the events themselves but go deep from multiple angles, dissecting events and thinking about them in original ways. 

One that recently caught my eye – or rather ear – is Ear Hustle, a podcast about stories of life inside prison. This isn’t a standard podcast where a journalist goes out and spends a week, month or years researching. This podcast is produced by those living inside San Quentin State Prison. The stories are sometimes “difficult, often funny and always honest, offering nuanced views of people living within the American prison system.”

Podcasts, like reading a newspaper,  enhance your knowledge and keep our brains working. But aside from that, they’re just interesting - and free. Do something for yourself and find your new favorite podcast today.

Suggestions:

• Ted Talks - Any topic imaginable. • Stuff You Should Know – A discussion panel whose name says it all.

• This American Life -  A weekly public radio show heard by 2.2 million. 

• Great Lives – The BBC Radio Four podcast remembers the great and the terrible.

• Saints of Somewhere – Cultural leaders name the people, places and things that inspired them.

• Lore - A podcast about the dark historical tales that fuel modern superstitions. 

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.