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Staff Editorials

Protecting small town feel crucial for future of county

“Here we are now, 

entertain us” – Nirvana

Rarely in a single survey do you see two paths so clearly defined as with the  743 responses to the community survey that is part of the Comprehensive Plan Update. 

In one place the public said what they most like about Pickens is our small town feel and then what they most wanted to see are more entertainment, shopping, restaurant and career opportunities.

The vision if the views were combined would be a plan to merge Andy Griffith’s Mayberry with Atlantic City.

Facilitators from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission said that 100 responses from a community the size of Pickens is what they normally see -- the response  here was seven times that. It’s admirable that so many people voiced their two-cents-worth and understandably there were diverging views. 

There were also many who likely hold a subtler view that gets distorted in survey results – we like the small town, but need a few more restaurants and places to work.

We encourage those seeking more entertainment/shopping/growth as the highest priorities for our Comprehensive Plan Update to reconsider.

The pro-entertainment advocates are no small group. “Lack of entertainment for all ages” was the top gripe about the county, followed by the related response of “lack of local stores and restaurants” as another area that needs improvement.

The first problem we have with mixing business and government planning is those who seek more growth force bureaucrats to overstep their place. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution does it indicate the government has any business entertaining people. The idea of governments providing entertainment went out of fashion when the Roman Empire collapsed under the weight of too many events at the coliseum. Those hoping the government will provide entertainment should find new hobbies.

We would further argue that the idea that government needs to develop stores and restaurants is also a tenuous proposition. Businesses are solely the decision of entrepreneurs with capital looking to make investments.

It is government’s duty to provide solid infrastructure, good roads and police and fire protection so that the businesses can open and thrive. 

That being said, if the city of Jasper created tax abatements or incentives to get entrepreneurs to choose Jasper over the surrounding areas, it  would be money well spent, particularly if it filled some of the empty buildings. 

Following the old wisdom that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, we encourage our community to follow the second path chosen on the survey – maintain and enhance the pleasant small town atmosphere here.

We are already doing well at this as Pickens County is a great community to call home. Rather than trying to become something we are not, let’s polish our image and improve what we already are.

Like guys who put on hipster clothes to impress friends, going in a new direction is hard, especially when this community has a very pleasant button down image that works for many of the residents.

Eventually we may find that marketing this community as a quiet peaceful place to live is also a successful business model for those who want to see growth. Attract people by touting our great community and some, but hopefully not too much, commercial growth will follow.

For those still hoping the government will create entertainment, we would point out  Atlanta is a short drive away or perhaps they should take up bird-watching.

Podcasts -- an addictive way to learn, be entertained

By Christie Pool, Staff Writer

I’m addicted to podcasts. They are the perfect companion while taking the dogs for a walk or on a long drive. Podcasts are a great way to learn things – whether news and politics is your thing or storytelling, history, comedy, true crime, health, sports or technology – any subject under the sun and tons of topics you didn’t even know existed. 

For those that don’t know, podcasts are essentially modern radio shows available online and they’ve become ridiculously popular, going from niche to mainstream following the phenomenon of the Serial podcast a few years back.

Google “best podcasts of 2017” and you’ll be shocked at the variety. 

One of the recent hits has been S-Town, a real-life Southern Gothic. What starts out as an investigation by a This American Life journalist into an Alabama man bragging about getting away with murder evolves into a haunting character study of John B. McLemore who gave the initial tip in the investigation.  

For true-crime enthusiasts there are podcasts like Up and Vanished, based right here in Georgia. This podcast examines the 2005 cold case of Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher and beauty queen who disappeared from her apartment in Ocilla, Georgia. The case was never solved and has become “the largest case file in Georgia history.”

Going to the “Top Charts” sections on the iTunes podcasts, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History takes top honors with a 5-star review among more than 11,000 people. The podcast re-examines “something from the past – an event, a person, an idea, even a song – and asks whether we got it right the first time.” 

NPR’s Invisibilia is another cool podcast. It looks at the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions by weaving narrative storytelling with scientific research that will make you see your own life differently.

Not in the mood to consider the deeper meaning of things? There’s no shortage of wonderful comedy shows, including Comedy Bang Bang, Last Podcast on the Left, and 2 Dope Queens. 

A good podcast is like sitting in on an interesting conversation. And like all conversations, some are better than others.

History buffs can try Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History. Many of the episodes last longer than the events themselves but go deep from multiple angles, dissecting events and thinking about them in original ways. 

One that recently caught my eye – or rather ear – is Ear Hustle, a podcast about stories of life inside prison. This isn’t a standard podcast where a journalist goes out and spends a week, month or years researching. This podcast is produced by those living inside San Quentin State Prison. The stories are sometimes “difficult, often funny and always honest, offering nuanced views of people living within the American prison system.”

Podcasts, like reading a newspaper,  enhance your knowledge and keep our brains working. But aside from that, they’re just interesting - and free. Do something for yourself and find your new favorite podcast today.

Suggestions:

• Ted Talks - Any topic imaginable. • Stuff You Should Know – A discussion panel whose name says it all.

• This American Life -  A weekly public radio show heard by 2.2 million. 

• Great Lives – The BBC Radio Four podcast remembers the great and the terrible.

• Saints of Somewhere – Cultural leaders name the people, places and things that inspired them.

• Lore - A podcast about the dark historical tales that fuel modern superstitions. 

Georgia newspapers alive and kicking

We recently wrapped up a subscription drive offering a 9mm carbine rifle as the main prize and saw our total circulation remain a very stable, 6,300 for our print, plus another 300 who pay to read the paper online. Daily usage at our free website is all over the board depending on what news is breaking.

Our print readers are down from our peak. As a comparison when north Georgia was booming and the internet was still in its infancy, the highest circulation we ever reached was around 8,000. We wish we were still there but, unlike what befall some of the daily papers, the weeklies have remained pretty strong. The difference is weeklies serve a population that relies on local papers and reporters to tell what was happening down the road while the mid-sized dailies were too-often full of national news which could easily be found online.

The Progress is not unusual as a weekly, holding its own in the face of online news, fake news and general doomsday predictions about the print industry. A survey of Georgians conducted by American Opinion Research in 2016 found most, non-metro weeklies are doing well.

Here’s a few of the survey results, which was commissioned by the Ga. Press Association:

•  Georgia newspaper products have a wide reach. Two-thirds of all adults, more than 4.7 million people, read a printed newspaper or access a newspaper website during an average week. 

• Newspapers and their websites are the most used source of local news and information. 34 percent of respondents said the newspaper is their prime source of information (26 percent in the metro area; 43 percent outside the metro area).

Georgia consumers rely on printed newspapers and their websites more than any other source for local sales and shopping information, in both the Atlanta metro area and the rest of the state. (In the metro area, 30 percent of respondents said that the newspaper was their top choice for advertising information; this jumps to 41 percent outside the metro area).

On average, two adults read each copy of a weekly newspaper.

• More than 1.3 million Georgia adults use a newspaper website daily, almost 2.8 million during an average week.

• Almost six-in-10 readers (59%) keep their newspapers three days or longer, almost four-in-10 (38%) keep it until the next issue arrives. The average shelf-life: 2.8 days.

If you are surprised by these figures, realize that the survey also found: 


• Newspapers do a very poor job at marketing themselves and their content. Very little has been done by the industry to correct the idea that print was doomed.

 

At the Progress, like any business, we wish we had a few more regular customers (both advertisers and subscribers). But we will guarantee that the idea that newspapers are dying off in rural areas is utter nonsense.

The April 27th edition of the Progress marked our 130th year of publication. Who knows if we’ll get another 130, that’s a mighty long time and things do change (not nearly as quickly as big cities like to think), but we’re confident that we won’t be going anywhere too soon.

We appreciate the community support here and are proud to be your hometown source of news.

 

Make your obituary about the real you

Nobody wants to think about their obituary because it would mean we’ve ceased to be. But all too often that final write-up about our lives has become less about who we are and more about who we leave behind. 

Us common folks should be remembered with the same grace, dignity and interest as celebrities and politicians, perhaps more so in a small community like Pickens. The people on our obituary pages are the people we shared a town with, that we saw at the grocery store or sat by at church.

An obituary can be more than just who in our family remains alive or where we will be laid to rest. An obituary should tell people what we spent our lives doing. You don’t have to be a big shot to get a proper sendoff. You just need to be interesting. And there is something interesting in everyone. 

Sure we may not all have an obituary like that one inseparable couple who had been married for 62 years and died just hours apart or the outdoorsman who survived two attacks by grizzly bears but died peacefully in his own bed (the irony!). Even if we are just the typical southern ladies and gents who enjoyed church meetings and sitting on the porch with a glass of tea, we all have traits or stories that tell readers that our life was well lived. 

Obits are a way to give a person a grand goodbye, even if our own says we had a lifelong love affair with Netflix and Vienna sausages on saltines.

We’d love to see more obits come into the office like William “Freddie” McCullough (he’s not from around here but his obit is widely circulated on legacy sites). Like McCullough, our obits should be true reflections of the lives we’ve lived - whether humorous, sentimental or just plain honest.

McCullough’s obit read:

“The man. The myth. The legend. Men wanted to be him and women wanted to be with him. McCullough died on September 11, 2013. Freddie loved deep fried Southern food smothered in Cane Syrup, fishing at Santee Cooper Lake, Little Debbie Cakes, Two and a Half Men, beautiful women, Reese’s Cups and Jim Beam. Not necessarily in that order. He hated vegetables and hypocrites. Not necessarily in that order.”

Or what about Michael “Flathead” Blanchard.

“Weary of reading obituaries noting someone’s courageous battle with death, Mike wanted it known that he died as a result of being stubborn, refusing to follow doctors’ orders and raising hell for more than six decades. He enjoyed booze, guns, cars and younger women until the day he died.”

Another obit, Katherine Collins Lynch, an amateur musician and optometry associate who, at her death, “departed for Heaven without the courtesy of a goodbye notice, and without having prepared one last pot of her much-loved chicken and rice soup.” Her survivors planned to celebrate her homecoming with a “good ol’ sing” around the piano.” “In lieu of flowers, Kathy would rather you buy and fry a pack of extra crispy bacon and enjoy it with your family.”

So we encourage everyone to stop and consider what you want to be said about you when you die and let your relatives know you want them to publicly state that your final request was to be driven through town in a favorite pickup truck or went into the ground dressed in your finest Georgia Bulldog shirt. 

The simple fact is people love reading, sharing and commenting on obituaries. So write something down. Make it personal or bold, funny or not. Just make it about you.

 

Business comings and goings

We believe a couple of business stories deserve some comment.

First, the city council/planning commission recently approved a rezoning on Highway 53 at a busy intersection (where Wendy’s and Bojangles sit). Note, they did not approve a restaurant there, as even the most activist liberal does not want government to have the ability to decide on a specific business. What they approved was a zoning that could allow a restaurant or another business or whatever the owner wants to build as long as it’s legal and meets the zoning codes. It was openly discussed that another fast food place is looking at the spot, but technically the owner did not have to reveal what business would locate there -- just as long as it meets the zoning requested.

Based on several online comments, there is a mistaken and dangerous belief that  government has the right and ability to pick what comes to town -- as though Jasper’s mayor has a stack of applications and he chose a fast food restaurant over a high-tech start-up.

In this case, we would encourage our city to look at an already busy intersection and see how it can be improved and if the new business may need to adapt to prevent traffic chaos.

Government does have the duty of setting land use standards. But it is solely up to entrepreneurs on what actually develops.

Second, we recently ran a story that there is actually not a restaurant committed to the prominent building on the corner of Main and Church streets downtown. We didn’t set out to report a non-event. We set out to confirm public statements during a meeting that a big-time Atlanta restaurant was about to open shop. Turns out they aren’t ready to commit, though they are looking at it. Our intention wasn’t to embarrass those that ran with the comments as though they were fact. One Facebook group went so far as to post what they said would be the restaurant’s name and give an opening timeline. We simply felt a duty to correct the misinformation.

This is the second time this year we reported a business was not coming. We also publicly noted that Publix has not applied for any permits, has not met with any officials concerning infrastructure, nor shown any official sign they are eying a local spot. Maybe they too will open here one day, but circulating reports at that time were pure speculation.

After the debacle of the great water park hype (of which we were guilty ourselves of not showing more skepticism), we aren’t going to rush to print statements about a business opening without solid confirmation – something official as in plans or permits.

Fancy drawings and Facebook posts are titillating, but permits, infrastructure plans and construction work is the real deal. 

Third, looking ahead, the Jasper mayor told us he is planning to broach a needed, but potentially thorny, subject. Officially, the city has an ordinance keeping beer, wine and liquor sellers and churches a certain distance from each other. The ordinance is no longer practical. According to a recent conversation with the mayor, the city council will be asked to revise it.

If someone were rigidly enforcing the code, there are two churches/ministries in downtown Jasper now. The religious folks have not asked for any enforcement but their presence could be a challenge should a new restaurant want to come.

The mayor said he was aware of one other situation where someone has rented part of an office to a church that sits near an existing restaurant selling beer. Yet another situation we are aware of is a forthcoming church next to a store that has sold beer for decades.

The mayor explained that when the code was written, churches meant brick buildings with steeples and it made more sense. Now new churches form and meet in all sorts of places and don’t appear perturbed by nearby restaurants that have beer and wine. 

If no one is asking for the enforcement it seems best to loosen it up. The existing code could create an enforcement challenge with some churches and alcohol sellers already good neighbors -- with good fences presumably.