Pete McCommons of Flagpole was recently recognized by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia with the inaugural Rollin M. "Pete" McCommons Award for Distinguished Community Journalism. McCommons wrote in his March 7 "Pub Notes" column that "it takes a community to support community journalism." He in turn recognized many individuals who participated in and supported local journalism here in Athens, as well as those who made Athens such a great place for community journalism.
I would like to turn that proposition around: I posit that good community journalism makes a community. What I mean is that good coverage and good engagement by the local media outlets stimulate the locals to learn about their community and be involved. The Flagpole publication was here when I came to Athens in 1997. It was how I learned about Athens. I learned what was going on, what people were doing, what people cared about, and what our local government was doing. Other media outlets helped along the way, but Flagpole was the central source for me.
I initially had some disdain for Flagpole because it seemed to be so focused on the music scene. I wasn't cool and I wasn't a scenester, so I had other concerns, but it had such an edge on local politics. While other sources would give a dry, newsy account of what happened at Mayor and Commission meetings, Flagpole was talking about what people were saying and what people cared about. McCommons and his crew inspired me to reach out to my local elected officials and to write letters to the editor about my opinions (please don't Google those).
I started to blog to share interesting anecdotes about what makes Athens fun and unique. I volunteered for several local political campaigns, some winning and some losing. I met my neighbors and invited groups to my home to discuss local affairs. I volunteered and was twice appointed to serve on a local board with the ACC government. I have moved away from Athens three times yet felt the pull to return here because it was the only place that felt like home.
If it weren't for Flagpole, how would my life have been different? Would I have cared about the things going on around town? Would I have felt something in common with my neighbors? Is my pride and interest in Athens because of the vibe and the culture that I found on my own, or is it because Flagpole helped show me all this?
I think Flagpole can be partly blamed for influencing me to get stuck in this town where I only planned to come to college (like so many of us). It is a central institution in this town that brings people together. It covers so much more than the music scene, and its importance to our community has only grown. As certain other media outlets have dwindled or evaporated, it went online to provide updates more than once a week, and it brought in Blake Aued a few years ago, so in my mind it is the primary source for what is important around here. I have even had the chance to contribute writing and photography and actually get paid by Flagpole. This publication indeed inspires us to care about this town and to get involved. I might disagree with much of what McCommons writes in his opinion pieces, but I read it and really think about how our community can work together to realize its vision, and I appreciate how much other people care about this place.
So much then for Flagpole and Pete McCommons.