Bragging a little on our newspaper staff

Published 2:16 pm Saturday, June 1, 2019

Like any other industry, newspapers and media have their shortcomings. There is, however, one area in which we struggle mightily— bragging on ourselves.

Just the thought goes against everything taught in any journalism school. A newspaper is always supposed to be in the background, a check and balance for local leaders, and we pride ourselves in not stepping out of the background and into the limelight.

Our counterparts in television media have overcome this self-imposed journalistic hurdle better than the print landscape has, with their catchy slogans like “news you can trust” or “always on your side.” You probably know many of those slogans by heart.

We don’t go further than “serving LaGrange since 1843,” a boring, factual newspaper tagline I bet many of you didn’t realize graces the top of this paper each day. And trust me, we typically don’t want to.

However, I’d like to break the journalistic code for a minute, and do something newspapers don’t often do — take a little credit for the work being produced. Just this once, I’d like to brag a little bit on the staff at the LDN, one that works extremely hard every day to bring you the news.

If you haven’t heard, The LaGrange Daily News was named the top newspaper in its division during the Georgia Press Association’s annual banquet on Friday night.

The LDN won 20 editorial awards, including first place awards in investigative journalism, education writing, community service, feature writing, headline writing, layout and design, spot news photo and special section.

The LDN hadn’t won first place in general excellence since 2008 and hasn’t been particularly competitive in the GPA’s contest since. Winning general excellence in our division is comparable to winning the Super Bowl of newspapers our size, and it’s something we’re extremely proud of.

If you’re a longtime reader of the paper, you’ve probably noticed a lot of changes over the last two years. Some of those worked out great, while others didn’t and needed to be tweaked.

One of the biggest changes was the brand-new design we launched last year, and based on the comments, judges thought our design was far and away the best in our division.

Since I took over as editor in May 2017, we’ve focused completely on our community, the people and businesses within LaGrange and Troup County. You’ve probably noticed less statewide stories on our pages and more focus on local events and activity on the roads you drive and the places you shop.

Our small editorial staff of four — five if you count Publisher Baker Ellis, who moonlights as a writer when he can and is needed — has to be ready for anything. One day a reporter may get up at the break of dawn to cover a car accident or ceremonial breakfast. The next night that same reporter may work until 11 p.m. covering a graduation or a council meeting.

The newspaper industry is a far cry from what it was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, when reporters had specific beats, and a news staff included dozens of men and women. Reporters now are asked to write stories, take their own photos, shoot video, design pages, write opinion columns, edit pages, handle online content, update social media pages, put together magazine content — all while being ready to stop everything to run out and cover breaking news. At one time, newsrooms across the country likely had a different person to handle each of those tasks.

It’s a balancing act, which is why I’ve got to brag on both Alicia B. Hill and Kevin Eckleberry, who both won awards in the contest and have been integral to our success as the newspaper has experienced a ‘changing of the guard’ in the last 24 months. 

To be clear, I’m not saying that we’re a finished product and our heads aren’t swelling from the recognition. We don’t do this job for plaques or to be awarded, but as anyone in the media industry knows, it’s not all that often that feedback is positive.

Typically if someone calls the newsroom, it’s related to a problem. Many of those calls are because a name is misspelled, an event wasn’t covered or someone is mad about the way something was phrased. However, on Friday night, we were recognized for the work we’re doing, and that does give me a little sigh of relief.

There is nothing more important to our staff than to make sure we are doing the best job possible for this community.

More than anything, we appreciate the readers in this community, those who have stuck by this paper through a lot of ups and downs over the years.

However, in 2019, I think it’s pretty clear we’ve moved in the right direction, and we’re excited about the future.