Coaching them up: Charles Richardson, second from left, talks with, from left, interns Billy Malone of The Tifton Gazette, Brittany Shivers of The Newnan Times-Herald and Ethan Reddish of The Press-Sentinel of Jesup.

GPEF interns meet in Dublin for Write to the Top workshop

By Mackenzie Manley

GPEF Intern, The Courier Herald, Dublin

Aspiring journalists from across the state gathered in Dublin for the “Write to the Top” workshop, a luncheon for those participating in the Georgia Press Association’s summer internship program.

“Internships are special. It’s the time where you figure out if this is what you really want to do with your life, or if you run screaming,” Savannah Morning News Executive Editor Susan Catron told the interns. “You all represent our futures. You represent the future of journalism. We wouldn’t still be doing it if we didn’t think it was so important to our world, to our countries and to our cities.”

Eleven interns got acquainted over lunch at Company Supply Bistro, swapping stories, sharing experiences and discussing the good, bad and ugly of their summer in journalism. They also heard from another veteran of Georgia journalism, DuBose Porter, executive editor of The Courier Herald in Dublin and a former GPA president.

Porter touted the value of an internship with the Georgia Press Educational Foundation, the nonprofit organization operated by GPA. “It’s just a wonderful way to introduce folks to this industry, and give an outlet for writing and covering community journalism, which is still, we believe, the future of our industry.”

Porter called the “Write to the Top” workshop an investment, helping young journalists build a network and community. “One of the major benefits of what we’re starting today is we want you to know each other,” he said. “Four decades ago, I interned at [U.S. Senator] Sam Nunn’s office in Washington. And for the next 40 years, in different places, I would cross paths with people I met that summer. And I think it is important for you to know each other now, because over the next 40 years you are going to be the people who are working with newspapers, be the press person for someone. They’re going to be in this industry, and y’all will cross paths.”

Later, interns had samples of their work from this summer reviewed by veteran journalists Jim Wooten and Charles Richardson, whom Catron described as industry “rock stars.” Wooten is best known as a longtime columnist for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Richardson as a columnist and editorial writer for The Macon Telegraph.

The two provided suggestions on how the interns can improve their writing, and what to expect from a future in journalism. They also shared some of the wisdom they have collected over the years.

This year, GPEF’s Billy Watson Summer Internship program offered $1,500 each to 15 Georgia newspapers toward the salary for an eight-week internship for a high school or college student. The newspapers are required to contribute $500 and cover the intern’s expenses for mileage, etc.

Every year since its establishment in 1994, the program has shown its value in the young writers who leave the program with real work experience and hands-on education in the field of journalism.

Newspaper’s story helps save church

DOT’s plan to demolish historic structure changes after report by The Vidalia Advance

By The Advance, Vidalia

Historic English Eddy Church in southern Toombs County on the Altamaha River was slated for demolition to make way for a highway-widening project, but through prayers, a little effort and some help from readers of Toombs County’s local newspaper, the church was saved.

English Eddy Church has been serving the people of the English Eddy Community as a place of worship and safe haven since 1934 and was in the crosshairs of the Georgia Department of Transportation’s widening project of U.S. Highway 1 to allow for four lanes of traffic. Threatened with the possible demolition of their historic and sacred place of worship, the people of this quaint hamlet reached out to their local newspaper, The Advance in Vidalia, for help.

English Eddy Church

The proposed design of the four-lane highway includes a grassed median that extends the widening project further onto church property. Directly across from the church there is open usable land with no structures. Church elders suggested to the Department of Transportation a solution to save the cherished church. They suggested a plan to omit the grassed median, add a turning lane similar to the one several miles further down the highway entering Baxley, thereby shifting the road more to the opposite side, leaving the church intact.

The Georgia DOT rejected that plan, and church leaders were faced with condemnation proceedings. The church was on the chopping block to be demolished, erasing years of history and countless memories of a small country church and the community it serves.
Upon hearing of the church’s dilemma, The Advance staff published Salvation of A Church on the front page of the Aug. 7 edition. The feature story chronicled the history of the small community church and the desperation of its members to save it from destruction.
The power of prayer and the power of the press prevailed. English Eddy Church will be kept intact and moved without having to be demolished.

Thanks to Tom Wommack, a former Vidalia resident who reads The Advance religiously and communicates with The Advance on a weekly basis via email, the leaders of the church were put in touch with a company that will safely move the entire church structure and keep it intact.

After reading Salvation of a Church, Tom texted The Advance the following: “I read with saddened interest about English Eddy Church scheduled to be condemned by DOT to demolish it. When I was superintendent of schools in Colquitt County we had a house-moving company from Jacksonville, Ga., to move several brick classrooms, bricks, slab and all six miles outside of Moultrie.”

Wommack provided the phone number for Randy Neal, owner of American Lowe Building Movers, which The Advance forwarded to Jonathan Pittman, a church member who worked with the newspaper to tell the English Eddy story. Neal told The Advance, “We will pick it up slab, bricks and walls just like it sits and move it to where ever they want it.”

Fred Dennis Jr. is the grandson of Mrs. Frances Mann Dennis, who founded the church in 1934 and has been attending English Eddy church for 75 of his 76 years. He also serves as one of three church leaders who were dealing with GDOT trying to save the church.
On Aug. 15, Fred called Advance Associate Editor Kathy Hilt from Atlanta, where the English Eddy delegation had been meeting with GDOT with great news.

In an emotional phone conversation, Dennis told Hilt, “Been in Atlanta all day and wanted you to be the first to know we can save the church! Folks up here saw your article, and it really helped out a lot.” He said, “I’m happy the way things went, and we owe a lot of that to you and The Advance.”

That weekend, social media lit up with posts from English Eddy Church supporters thanking the Lord and The Advance for saving their beloved church. The Advance has received numerous commentspraising the efforts of the newspaper for bringing the issue to the attention of the public and for helping resolve the situation for the people of the small south Georgia community.

The English Eddy Church story demonstrates that despite today’s world of technology and the popularity of social media, which threatens the newspaper industry, people do read newspapers, and newspapers do make a difference in their lives.

Daniel Ford, advertising director of The Advance makes it quite clear. “This just proves the power and effectiveness of print. We now remind our customers that if we can move a church, we can move a car, we can move groceries, we can move furniture, we can move any product or service our customers have to sell.”


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.

Dink NeSmith, president of Community Newspapers Inc. and former GPA president, wrote this column in June for the company’s newspapers and his blog at It struck a chord with several newspaper editors and publishers, who have commented on it and echoed its sentiments to their readers.

The internet is a blessing and a curse

By Dink NeSmith

Community Newspapers Inc.

The internet needs two buttons pinned to its chest. One should proclaim: a blessing. The other should admit: a curse.

There’s no denying technology—through the internet—has been a life-changing revolution. My industry has benefited from lightning-fast ways to do business, but there have been crippling consequences, too. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Dink NeSmith

Look around. You can see the benefits everywhere. Students of all ages have access to more information than ever before. And what about the technology-led advances in medicine? Whoever gifted us with the internet idea ought to feel proud—for the most part.

Now, consider the “other part” of the internet. While it has lifted us in myriad ways, the internet has significantly dragged us backwards. Civility is on the fast track to extinction. The internet has birthed a legion of anonymous bullies who feel unashamedly brave to spew their venom. Call them what they are: cowards. Every time I read of a suicide that is linked to cyber bullying, I want to heave my breakfast into the azaleas.

I am not a fan of social media, especially Facebook. Read The Accidental Billionaires, about Mark Zuckerberg’s rise to riches based on his tawdry scheme to illegally hack Harvard’s student files, especially those of female classmates. His company’s reckless handling of personal data should be criminal.

I respect the right of others to make choices, and I choose to never have a personal Facebook account. Furthermore, Facebook is irresponsible in the dissemination of false information. The proliferation of fake news has severely damaged the reputation of credible journalism. That makes me want to vomit, too.

Since the arrival and explosion of the internet, newspapers aren’t the only aggrieved businesses. Go up and down Main Street in any town. The disruption is widespread. Realtors are hammered by Zillow, Offer Pad, Red Fin and the like. Carvana and others are taking on auto dealers. Yesterday, I complimented a 4-year-old on her new shoes. She smiled and said, “A man brought them to the front door.” Online shopping—primarily Amazon—is doing its best to put plywood on the windows of retailers everywhere.

Yes, I know. Technology and the internet have created millions of jobs, but how many paychecks have they destroyed? As industrial robots take over, where will those displaced workers go? When driverless technology is perfected, how many truckers and professional drivers will be in the unemployment line?

This revolution is like a real-life game of hopscotch. We jump two blocks forward and leap three back, hoping we wind up ahead and not behind.

On the flip side of the internet’s positives for newspapers, here’s the curse. Generations are being trained that what they read on the internet is synonymous with free.

Sixty years ago, my grandmother predicted what is happening today. She warned, “If you let folks get milk through the fence, they’ll never buy a cow.” Newspapers were dumb to let Facebook, Google, Yahoo and information aggregators milk our valuable content “through the fence” without paying for it.

The most expensive investment a newspaper makes is the gathering and editing of news. Our reporters cannot work as unpaid volunteers. But in the meantime, internet behemoths—such as Facebook and Google—are raking in billions in profits, taking free rides on the backs of journalists.

If you think Mark Zuckerberg and his peers are going to be your community’s watchdog and champion, you need to think again. When a newspaper’s inquisitive spotlight doesn’t shine into dark corners, the welfare of the community is at risk.

And what’s scary is that too many people don’t realize that or care.

Excuse me.

I’m going to find the azaleas.