Parting wisdom: be an engaging reader

This will be my last week contributing to the Journal Record--at least in my current capacity. As of today, Wednesday, Sept. 29, I am writing full-time for the Lagniappe Weekly in Mobile.
I can only count on one hand the times I’ve had to make a decision this defining. Marion County has been so good to me. My employees are incredible, and the readers and friendships I’ve made have been nothing short of outstanding.
As a student of this community for the last four-and-a-half years of writing here, it seems odd to me to try and return any parting wisdom.
I have always strived to approach interviews and articles with the presumption that I have something to learn. That has done well for me.
I’ve always tried to reserve my personal opinions and perspectives for significant moments for our opinion section. Columns have always been the most taxing form of writing for me, as I feel the weight of needing to have a well-formulated argument.
I will take one last stab at offering advice.
To our readers, I want to encourage you to engage with the newspaper.
Being served by a local newspaper is a privilege that can be often overlooked, but it is such an asset.
There is something healthy about diving into an edition of the paper, soaking in the content and then have that content turn into some sort of response. It has always been the role of the newspaper to inform, enlighten and confront. But none of that matters without the readers reacting--in whatever capacity that may look like.
I believe subscribing to your local newspaper is a great step to taking ownership of where you live. We need more people who make their community their business.
If you have a question or concern about a story, contact the writer either by email or phone. If you are alarmed by a statistic or policy, contact a local legislator or city councilman. Show up to a city council meeting and take your kids with you. Show them what it is like to take ownership of their community. Begin a constructive and respectful conversation on social media. Pick up the phone and make a call.
If you have story ideas, our writers want to hear them. If you have an opinion, criticism or praise, submit a letter to the editor.
If something is incorrect or misunderstood, ask for a correction or clarification.
 If you hear an interesting fact about someone in the community and you think it could be featured, let us know.
If you know something that needs to have light shown on it, submit a tip or be brave enough to go on the record to say it.
If it’s not you, then who? If it’s not now, then when?
If you want to see an aspect of the local newspaper strengthened, offer your help. Our sports coverage is nearly impossible without the engagement of coaches and parents. Volunteer to take statistics and snap pictures. Our 2021 All-Star Sports section and 2021 Football Preview this past summer could not have happened without parents willing to chip in.
Let us know about your event a week in advance. Don’t assume we know everything that’s happening, because we don’t. Far from it.
So, yes, please make a point to engage with the newspaper sometime in the near future. Interacting with readers has been one of my favorite things to do and normally leads to some great results.
It’s also a great reminder to a writer sitting at his desk that he is writing about a real world and about real people and that the words being printed have real consequences--for good or for bad.
Some of the most meaningful feedback I’ve received is when someone tells me that they felt like I did them or a story justice or restored their faith in news.
Being told that I’ve covered something fairly is one of the greatest compliments to me, especially if what I wrote regards something that is contrary to my own views or beliefs.
Thank you to all who have contacted me the past week and have gone out of their way to congratulate me and wish me well in my endeavors.
I received a very special phone call from Mrs. Jimmie Dorris Franks last Wednesday, who thanked me for an article I wrote in April 2017 about her late husband, Thomas Edward “Ned” Franks, who was a World War II veteran.
It was one of the first feature stories I ever wrote and I did it from Ned’s journal which he kept and wrote in while he was deployed in North Africa.
One of the first news stories I wrote when I was hired in February 2017 was from a Brilliant Town Council meeting, where town councilmen donated their council paychecks to help purchase equipment for the Brilliant Police Department.
These are the kind of stories that made this job so enjoyable.
Marion County has taught me the value of real, honest and local journalism--something which I hope will go on to benefit people on a much larger scale with the position I am taking in Mobile.


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