In the first few lines of To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee describes her setting like this:
Maycomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it.
In my earliest memories, the same could be said of Franklin. Maybe tired isn’t exactly right, but certainly not a lot had changed in the previous decades. But the ’60s melted in the ’70s. The 70s boogied into the 80s which rushed at breakneck speed into the 90s which time-warp danced their way the present.
Now instead of knowing almost everyone at the grocery store or the hardware store, I’m surprised when I see a familiar face.
There’s a lot of good that comes with the new people. But one thing that always makes me sad is that often as not they declare that they live in Nashville, not Franklin.
When I was a pup we had a local newspaper that came out on Thursdays called the Review-Appeal. As I recall, it was the oldest nondaily east of the Appalachians. Local politics, sports and crop reports were its stock in trade. “Correspondents” from communities in the county sent in weekly reports. It was as small town as it gets. And as Franklin got bigger, it just wasn’t good enough.
Gannett, which owns the Tennessean in Nashville, started sniffing around the little town to the south–the little town with big pockets and lots of disposable income. They had an idea about a new type of paper–a daily insert to cover local news in a particular area. That’s when the Williamson A.M. was born. At first I was enthralled–news about Franklin everyday, not just twice a week (which the R-A had grown to). Plus, the staff was really interested in what was going on. They covered local events and offered an alternative to the tried and true Review-Appeal.
But we all know what’s happening in the newspaper business. And I have to admit that I’m among those who does not read the paper on a daily basis.
Gannett finally wore the R-A down. I don’t remember the exact chain of events, but I believe that it eventually bought the R-A. At the same time, management changed at Williamson A.M. The focus shifted from thoughtful commentary and news to pop culture. It seemed like everyone over the age of 40 was fired and replaced by stay-at-home moms who thought it would be super fun to work part-time at a newspaper. “Look at me, I’m a journalist!”
After a time, a group put together a new paper–a weekly called the Williamson Herald. Their executive editor has deep roots in the community and held a similar position at the R-A. They get Franklin. They don’t cater to us old timers, but they don’t bow and scrape to the new folk either.
But the concept of “hometown newspaper” never really resonated with me until the recent flooding that started on May 1.
Using social media like Facebook and Twitter, the executive editor kept us informed of road closings, school happenings and other flood-related news. Even as the waters crept closer to her own home, she kept us informed.
The Monday after the rain, Husband brought the Tennessean upstairs. I grabbed it and immediately pulled out the Williamson A.M. to see what they had to say about the flooding in Franklin.
Nada. Zip. Zilcho.
Because the Monday Williamson A.M. was printed before it even started raining. And they didn’t think enough of us to tear that paper up and give us some real news. Because, to Gannett, we’re just the cute little town with deep pockets.
I sent in my subscription to the Williamson Herald yesterday. And now I send my apologies for not doing it sooner.
You are my hometown newspaper.