These days have been interesting times for me and for everyone in the newspaper business. Much of our focus here in Alpharetta/North Fulton is on simply continuing to get our five weekly newspapers out — to write the stories, to compose the papers, sell the advertising, do the paperwork of administration and distribute those papers to the over 90,000-plus driveways we deliver to each week. During a pandemic. Working remotely most of the time. With reduced hours and staff. While the world goes kind of crazy.
No worries, right?
Wrong. I worry a lot. But not necessarily about what you think.
For over 30 years we have delivered our newspapers to North Atlanta homes for free. Advertising has always paid the bulk of the bills. Each issue involves an incredible amount of hyper-focused effort, sweat, sometimes sleepless nights, obsessive drive, and, yep, plain old pride and dedication on the part of our staff. We have, as I mentioned in a recent column, probably covered over 4,000 city council meetings for Alpharetta, Roswell, Milton, Johns Creek and Dunwoody — plus Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, Fulton County Board of Education and also the Fulton County Commission meetings. We cover school news and school sports — the schools your children go to — those memories and experiences that stay with them the rest of their lives. We provide you with information that impacts your health and well-being, about your city’s government and zoning decisions that can double the value of your property or cut it in half. We give you knowledge about where the millions upon millions of your tax dollars go. We write about your deaths, births and marriages. And we write the things you want to do or attend — the plays, the concerts, shows, get-aways, performances and anything else that is part and parcel to your life.
That is, we’ve got your back. We’re looking out for you.
But do you want us to?
We package the life-enhancing information in one organized bundle called a newspaper and hand-deliver it conveniently to your doorstep — for free. And you know what? I am at a loss to come up with another example of you being given anything of any reasonable or personal value like that, for free, no strings attached.
But, here is the part that I worry about and which I don’t get.
I worry that something is going on out there. That instead of being interested in and engaged in meaningful ways with life and community, more and more people seem distracted by other things, things that I don’t see or understand. I see this in many forms, including people requesting — and at times demanding — to not receive their local newspaper. I see it in the outright anger and malice in voice and actions of some with regard to the paper.
We have seen people blockade their cul-du-sac so that our carrier cannot exit in order to berate them and scream at them. They have thrown things at the carriers’ cars and kicked their cars and hit them with their fists. We have had guns pulled on our delivery folks — yes guns pulled and carriers threatened — because they were delivering— for free — this bundle of information crafted primarily to protect, engage and enhance their lives. And while I get it that it would be wrong and also arrogant to assume that everyone wants the newspaper, I do worry about “why” they don’t. After the “I get my information online,” “I don’t want to kill trees,” and “it is inconvenient to pick the paper up off my driveway,” there is a big gap of people just not caring. And on top of that, there is this anger. What is happening?
It’s certainly not just newspapers. We are now seeing people getting beaten and sometimes killed because they have been asked to wear a mask. We are seeing people viewing a mask as some type of assault — a mask designed to protect the wearer and those around the wearer from catching a virus and possibly dying. They become enraged. They strike out. All they see is a tunnel-vision “me” and no larger picture. Why?
I am not worried about having plenty of folks who want our newspapers and welcome them. We have always had a waiting list of new subdivisions that are asking to receive the newspapers. There has always been more demand for our papers than there has been supply. And yes, I know and accept that a small percentage of people do not want a local newspaper hand-delivered for free to their front step, even if that newspaper saves them money, protects them, chronicles their lives and their children’s lives, and generally enriches their life.
Not wanting the local newspaper delivered to your home for free however is not “the thing.” Along with the anger, it is only a symptom of a greater and more disturbing problem.
Something is broken. And that is what worries me.