Gov. Kemp, Speaker Ralston join newspapers on Jekyll

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp speaks at Georgia Press Association’s 133rd Annual Convention.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and House Speaker David Ralston spoke to the state’s publishers, editors and newspaper leaders at Georgia Press Association’s annual convention.

They were the headliners at GPA’s 133rd annual gathering, each taking time to highlight accomplishments of the state in the last few months while also focusing attention on the issues they’ll be considering in the months ahead.

Editor Dan Pool of the Pickens County Progress in Jasper assumed presidency of GPA, with Alan NeSmith, publisher of The Northeast Georgian of Cornelia, becoming vice president. Mike Gebhart, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Southern Community Newspapers Inc., which operates the Gwinnett Daily Post of Lawrenceville, The Albany Herald and five weekly newspapers, is GPA’s new treasurer.

The Valdosta Daily Times was awarded the 2019 Freedom of Information Award for its work to education readers and public officials about Georgia’s open government laws and the principles of sunshine in government. It was the third time in four years The Times has captured the award.

Isabel Hughes and Sydney Taylor were each honored with the Emerging Journalist Award. Hughes covers crime and other beats at the Gwinnett Daily Post, and Taylor covers local government and writes features at The News Observer in Blue Ridge.

GPA wants to make the convention experience available to those who weren’t able to come.

Want to know what speakers such as UGA Grady College Dean Charles Davis said about building trust in your newspaper or Conan Gallaty of the Tampa Bay Times said about better customer engagement to increase subscription sales?

Check out their Powerpoint presentations at

* You can also see convention advertising and editorial awards presentations from the Better Newspaper Contest at

* For the complete BNC results, see

* You can also see the top winners of any category in either contest in a searchable database here:

New GPA officers for 2019-20 are, from left, Alan NeSmith of The Northeast Georgian, Dan Pool of the Pickens County Progress of Jasper and Mike Gebhart of Southern Community Newspapers.

Have you thought of this? Ideas on Tap session delivers great ideas

One of the best attended (and most fun!) sessions at the annual convention is Ideas on Tap.

Newspaper execs from around the state, fueled by cold beer and pretzels, share their ideas for revenue, branding, awareness, good will and readership — not necessarily in that order!

Eric NeSmith of Community Newspapers Inc. guided the discussion at “Ideas on Tap.”

Led by the indefatigable Eric NeSmith, the group got busy on Thursday afternoon, and 14 ideas surfaced that can be used pretty much everywhere. Now I’m not keeping score or anything but that was 14 ideas in just about 30 minutes … possibly a new record!

Apologies up front for not catching all the names and the newspapers who supplied these fabulous ideas. If you are the owner of the idea, can you drop me an email at please? Now … grab a cold one and peruse a recap of what you missed.

1. Public safety tab: To celebrate Public Safety Week, Co-Publisher Beth Neely said The Newnan Times-Herald published a tab celebrating the men and women who protect and serve — first responders, firemen, EMTs, police officers and more. The tab was inserted in the paper and an overprint was available at a communitywide event held to honor the public safety servants. (For more on this idea, see the April 2019 edition of Georgia Press Bulletin.)

2. Veterans Day Salute/Memorial Day Salute: The Donalsonville News produces this tribute twice a year, said Editor David Maxwell — once for those who have served and once for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Photos of soldiers adorn the pages of the newspaper for this special edition.

3. Health department advertising: We might not think of the Department of Public Health as a potential advertiser, but The Elberton Star got an ad from them for birth control, said Dink NeSmith, president of Community Newspapers Inc. Yes, you read that right! Seems there are dollars earmarked to spread the message that there are effective methods of contraception available from your local health department, and your newspaper could be getting those dollars. Seems like a message worth spreading, right?

4. Podcasts: If you’re not producing a podcast, you may want to contact some of our members who are and see how to get on board. Podcasts are great ways to tap into those who like to listen to the news as well as read it. The Newnan Times-Herald is one newspaper producing podcasts, along with the Savannah Morning News, The Clinch County News in Homerville, Appen Media Group in Alpharetta and many others. The Times-Herald’s podcast “Movers, Shakers and History Makers” has proven to be quite popular and adds a new dimension to reporting in print.

5. Classifieds: Session moderator Eric NeSmith of Community Newspapers Inc. proffered this idea, echoing what one of our speakers, Bill Ostendorf of Creative Circle Media Solutions, suggested: Make your classifieds more interesting and readable! NeSmith suggested gathering all the area’s local senior discounts and publishing them in the classifieds — but with larger type, of course!

6. Reinvigorate religion pages: Several mentioned ways to reinvigorate religion pages or sections. One newspaper provides a discount along with advertorial on their religion pages to local churches. Another offered a share page for all the Vacation Bible School programs offered in their area. Still another suggested profiles of local pastors as content — and an accompanying ad for the church. Everyone agreed that we don’t think of churches as a business, but many have advertising budgets for special events, like Easter and Christmas. One paper shared a half-page, full color ad for Easter! Don’t miss out when planning for those times of year.

7. Cutest Pets: If you think the kids in your market are cute, wait until you see the pets! Publisher Will Davis said the Monroe County Reporter of Forsyth is tapping into the growing interest in our furry friends, and the newspaper is producing a Cutest Pets page. A small fee to enter your adorable animal gets Fido’s photo published three times. Readers vote on the cutest pets.

Another newspaper followed on that idea and told how they charged for the votes as well as the entry! Still another reported that they produced a calendar with the winners of the cuteness contest! Think of all the veterinarians, animal rescue organizations, pet stores, groomers and pet photographers who would love to advertise in conjunction with this promotion!

8. Profiles: The Oconee Enterprise of Watkinsville is profiling local citizens in their paper with a different topic or occupation each year. Editor Michael Prochaska said the current project features people over 90 years old! These nonagenarians have lots to say, and it’s clear that there are folks who want to hear it. The popular feature has profiled people in caregiver roles, public safety, education and government service.

9. Obituaries and remembrances: Publisher Mike Traynor said the Savannah Morning News capitalized on the high interest in local obituaries and began publishing an annual “Remembrances” section that features the name and life dates of every obituary published in the preceding year. The small upcharge added to the obituary at the time of placement covers the production of the section. This idea is scalable for small and large papers. Obits are a high interest area for all our papers!

10. Sponsored journalism: This idea, from Gatehouse Media newspapers, is one that is being implemented at The Augusta Chronicle and Savannah Morning News, according to Traynor. The magazine publication is produced quarterly and is time-bound — it’s a one-year project — that focuses on community issues and a vision for the future. Community partners, who also are invited to be part of an executive round table, support the project financially and are provided advertising in each issue. The news department contracts for the journalistic production. Savannah’s project is called “Beacon” and Augusta’s is called “1736.” Each is labeled as a news product and is inserted in home delivery, as well as mailed to chamber of commerce members.

11. Bridal magazine voting: Here’s a new twist on an old idea: Why not let readers vote on which couple’s nuptial photo will appear on the cover of the annual bridal magazine? It sparks interest in the section as well as increases readership.

12. Football wraps it up! The Blackshear Times and Publisher Robert M. Williams Jr. showed how to make a celebration section more than an insert in the paper. After the local football team won big this year, the paper produced a four-page wrap that showcased the team, coaches and supporters. In addition, they turned a non-advertiser into a raving fan with a special anchor position on the sports page. The advertiser — a local pharmacy owned by a woman whose son was the football team’s starting QB — reported an increase in sales of 30%. The owner said that she “wasn’t doing anything different except that newspaper ad!”

13. Facebook ads prove profitable: Williams shared that The Blackshear Times has nearly 13,000 followers and that many people are interested in tapping into the potential of that audience. The Times charges advertisers for a post on their Facebook page — anything from breaking news to a promotional event — and they report good results. The fee ranges from $25 to $75 depending on the announcement and the duration.

14. Educating the public: Scott Buffington of Mainstreet Newspapers got the best laugh of the entire session when he reported a conversation between the newspaper and the superintendent of the local schools. At a meeting with Buffington, the superintendent said they needed the newspaper to “educate the public,” and Scott said his first thought was “That’s YOUR job!”

It turns out this topic is probably on everyone’s “To-Do List.” Vaping is a serious and growing problem that is affecting young people in dramatic ways. Many teens believe vaping is less harmful than smoking, and e-cigarettes have a lower per-use cost than traditional cigarettes. What these youngsters are missing is that vaping can put 10 times the nicotine in your system, and the school system is dealing with this phenomenon as children are vaping before and during school and becoming ill.

The Jackson Herald is producing a magazine for insertion into the newspaper as well as an overprint for the schools. The school provides the content, and they will kick in for the revenue, too. The paper expects a tidy profit for this project.

— Stacy Jennings, Georgia Press Association

Changing Times: Carrie and Matt Gardner, from left, with their daughters Makenzie, 4, and Mattie, 7, with Robert and Cheryl Williams at the office of The Blackshear Times.

Gardner buys The Blackshear Times

Former GPA presidents Robert and Cheryl Williams retire from day-to-day newspaper business

By Matt Gardner and  Robert M. Williams Jr.

The Blackshear Times

One of Pierce County’s oldest businesses, The Blackshear Times, is 150 years old this year and is changing ownership for the first time in nearly 50 of those years.

Times Editor and Publisher Robert M. Williams Jr. and his wife, Cheryl, sold Pierce County’s local newspaper to MC Gardner Publishing Co. Inc. Matt Gardner, formerly of Baxley and Folkston, and his wife, Carrie, will be moving to Blackshear, where Matt becomes the latest editor and publisher in The Times’ long history. The changeover took effect with the July 3 issue.

Carrie Gardner will be a first grade teacher at Blackshear Elementary School. Matt has previously been associated with his family’s newspapers in Baxley and Folkston. The Gardners have two daughters, Mattie, 7, and Makenzie, 4.

“I wasn’t sure this day would ever really come,” said Robert Williams. “Owning a newspaper like The Blackshear Times was my dream job as a young child, and it has afforded me a wonderful life, countless opportunities and helped me make many friends, here and across the nation. After nearly a half-century, however, it’s time for new blood to lead this newspaper on to continued success because Blackshear and Pierce County deserve nothing less than the best.”

Robert and Cheryl Williams are both former GPA presidents. Robert Williams is also a former president of National Newspaper Association and a winner of the organization’s James O. Amos Award in 2007. The award , one of the highest honors given in the community newspaper industry, recognizes someone who has provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and his or her community. In Georgia, Williams has long been recognized as a forceful advocate for sunshine in government.

Williams expressed his appreciation to the newspaper’s readers and advertisers for their support and to the newspaper’s staff members who have been the key to the newspaper’s excellence. The Blackshear Times is among Georgia’s most honored newspapers, having won more than 400 awards under Williams’ leadership in virtually every area of journalism and advertising.

Williams also credits his wife, Cheryl, for keeping their business in good stead over decades so he could focus on covering the news.

“To be a good newspaper, first you have to be a good business and — thanks to Cheryl — we have been able to do that,” Williams said. “Her diligence in handling our business side, occasionally in difficult times, has been remarkable.”

Cheryl Williams says she has some trepidations about retirement but believes she is ready.

“I have mixed emotions about retiring even though I have often said lately, ‘I’m ready!’ Having worked all of my life, it will be quite different not getting up and going to work,” she said.

“I’m proud to have worked for The Blackshear Times, one of the top weekly newspapers in the state. I will miss my co-workers, our customers who have become good friends. Thanks to all of you for supporting The Times.”

Matt Gardner is a third-generation newspaper man, following both his grandfather, grandmother, uncles and father as a newspaper publisher. He has been working in the newspaper business most of his life, beginning by helping insert flyers into The Alma Times and The Baxley News-Banner as a youngster and started working full time in 2001 by helping to print and deliver papers. Gardner became the managing editor of The Baxley News-Banner in 2009 when his uncle, Jamie Gardner, purchased the paper. Gardner became the editor of the Charlton County Herald in Folkston in 2016.

News Editor Sarah Gove, staff writer Jason Deal, graphic designer Julie Cunningham and office manager Joan Teglas-Duplessis will continue working at The Blackshear Times.

“I want to thank Robert and Cheryl for trusting me to carry on a tradition of producing a quality product for the community,” Matt Gardner said. “The staff and I will continue to work hard for the citizens of Pierce County, and I am devoted to earning their trust in me,” he said.

Editor Dan Pool of the Pickens County Progress in Jasper clarifies often misunderstood points in the First Amendment regarding freedom of speech and freedom of the press in this editorial from the Progress on May 9. Pool became president of Georgia Press Association at the 133rd Annual Convention. This piece is available for use in other Georgia newspapers. Contact Sean Ireland at GPA.   

On freedom of speech and media access

By Dan Pool

With Facebook booting seven well-known firebrands, issues like freedom of speech and freedom of the press have taken a higher profile in the national discourse this week.

Facebook’s decision to ban accounts like Louis Farrakhan, Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopoulos put on a national stage the thorny, open-to-debate decisions that editors of newspapers have been dealing with all the way back to Benjamin Franklin with his Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729: how to handle the contributions of people who hold extreme opinions. Here are a couple of musings from this humble community editor.

Otis A. Brumby III, left, of the Marietta Daily Journal, and Dan Pool, Pickens County Progress of Jasper, are GPA’s president and vice president. Pool is slated to become GPA’s president at the 133rd Annual Convention.

At the Progress and with most other newspaper people I know (and I suspect with behemoths like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube), the first mission which occupies most of your energy is simply getting your product out to readers. For a workflow the last thing you need is to get into a prolonged debate over a couple of sentences in someone’s letter or opinion piece. I strongly suspect reading the accounts of Facebook decision that for the past year or so they were hoping the situation would just go away and they could get back to making billions and expanding their product ever-deeper into people’s lives.

At the Progress when election time rolls around our chief aim, contrary to what many feel about media bias, is to make sure we get the candidates’ names spelled correctly, the date of the election correct and that we don’t mix up quotes. Frankly, that takes most of a community newspaper’s time when politics gets heated.

A couple of points I’d like to clarify that are often fired like inaccurate Scud missiles regard freedom of speech and freedom of the press, both found in the First Amendment but not always understood.

Both are freedoms OF, neither are freedoms TO. Freedom of speech is exactly what the phrase says, you are free to say whatever you want. You can go tell everyone you want. You can hand out hundreds of fliers. You can create a website. You can yell it from the courthouse lawn. However, it doesn’t mean a newspaper has to print it, nor does it mean a social media company has to allow it on their servers. There is no freedom to the press. I have had several angry people over the years claim we were violating their freedom of speech because we wouldn’t publish something. I had one person become indignant that we wouldn’t run her extremely long story in its entirety – as though there is a constitutional right in America to have anything you write printed.

The chief at Twitter summarized the confusion over this and social media by musing in a podcast that they are somewhere between “a public square” where conversations happen unfiltered and a service with user agreements. In the end, they do have the right to kick someone off their company’s service – just like a bar can kick out an unruly drunk.

As a sidenote, freedom of the press means that newspapers can operate without harassment by government intervention. It has no bearing at all on someone having their letter to the editor printed.

That being said, it’s rare, very rare that the Progress declines to run something and never because we simply disagree with it. I have had numerous people over the years claim their writings would be too hot for us to print to which the reply is “try us.” Think about it this way, print something that creates a lot of controversy, stirs people up and sells a lot of newspapers. I can’t imagine any editor not champing at the bit for that.

Our general philosophy is to be as inclusive as possible of all views in this community and at the same times reject letters that contain blatant inaccuracies in fact – regardless of opinion.

We are committed to seeing all views expressed, even those we may find distasteful, and at the same time recognize our place as a community newspaper and thus our content should be fit to print. Not an easy path to navigate but nothing that hasn’t been challenging newspapers for 300 years.