Atlanta Journal-Constitution longtime reader reminds us mission trumps format

By Amy Chown

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Atlanta, Georgia, United States

This story began when I answered the phone in my office. Gail Campbell, the daughter of a lifelong subscriber, was on the line. “I’m not sure you’re the right person, but …”

She and her siblings were in the midst of overwhelming and emotional tasks: packing up a lifetime’s worth of memories, selling the family home, and moving their 87-year-old mother into an assisted living facility. Among her many things was a collection of print issues of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution spanning several decades.

Gail’s story took me back in time to when my family sorted through our beloved mother’s most treasured possessions after she died. We had faced the same quandaries when sorting her belongings: How do we find someone who would appreciate the things that meant so much to mom? We couldn’t just throw things in the trash. 

The common bond Gail and I shared on the phone that day compelled me to make trip to meet her “mama,” Roberta Lee Whitley, and the rest of the family.

Amy Chown visited with “Mama" Roberta Lee Whitley and her children about the important role of newspapers throughout their lives.
Amy Chown visited with “Mama" Roberta Lee Whitley and her children about the important role of newspapers throughout their lives.

I pulled up to a small, well-kept home. When the family purchased it in 1965, it was out in the country on a dirt road. The road is now busy with traffic due to Atlanta’s sprawling growth. Almost immediately, I found myself in a sacred place: the kitchen table.

As “mama” and I chatted, five of her six children busied themselves with the work at hand, continuing to pack boxes and supervising workers completing repairs on their childhood home. Roberta told me her dad learned to read by reading the newspaper and passed the love of reading the newspaper down to her.

Roberta’s children chimed in with stories about how their parents had clipped newspaper articles and assigned them to the kids to read. They told me the family has always read the newspaper. It was a family affair and remains a daily habit to this day.

After Roberta finished her lunch, we headed out to the carport where three large boxes sat in the corner. They were full of newspapers — a treasure trove documenting historic moments in Atlanta, the United States, and the world. We looked through the pages and revisited historic moments: men walking on the moon, the Atlanta Braves winning the World Series, September 11, President Nixon’s resignation, a memorial edition about Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell.

The marketer in me had to ask, why did she save these newspapers all these years? “Mama” looked me straight in the eye and said: “Because the newspaper is important.”

She’s right.

The design of the newspaper has changed. The world has changed. And in that moment, one major change in our industry was forefront in my mind. Since we now live in a world of digital content, the experience of saving historic front pages and newspaper clippings in family archives will soon disappear.

But one thing will never change as we continue to evolve in a digital world: Our mission to inform our community, record history, report the facts, and protect the public’s right to know. The newspaper company will always be there for its customers and community during the moments that make history and to explain what’s really going on.

The week after my visit with “mama” I wrote a column about it for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and, and was reminded again of the impact our brands have in the lives of our readers and the importance of the work that our journalists do.

One reader said it best: “Legacy isn’t old or dusty. Legacy is a foundation on which to stand in order to be a relevant and informed citizen. This is what you do. There is something wonderful and satisfying about turning the pages, but I have come around to the digital format and am now a fan. Thank you.”

About Amy Chown

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