It's never easy to say goodbye to an old friend

6/7/2013

    There is something special about holding a newspaper in your hand. Unlike other forms of communication, newspapers are a “warm” medium, more personal and intimate than electronic media.
    Of course, there is something special about riding a train, listening to vinyl LPs and going to a drive-in movie. Affection should not be confused with viability.
      It is not that newspapers no longer have a place. They do. But it will continue to be a diminishing place. The undeniable fact is that virtually every print news source in the nation has been in a slow, steady decline for many years. And it is easier to fight city hall than economic reality.
     But that doesn’t mean when the end finally arrives for a newspaper it is not met with grief, even shock. There have been plenty of both in the past few weeks.
     This is the final print edition of the North Georgia Advocate, which began publishing four years ago as an offspring of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate. In truth, this marks the end of a print publication that began 176 years ago.
      The end came quicker than we had anticipated. Last month UMR Communications (UMRC), which publishes the UM Reporter and the North Georgia Advocate, announced it was ceasing operations. For the past four years UMRC has handled all the administrative duties of the North Georgia Advocate, including advertising and subscriptions.
    In the coming weeks we will be working with UMRC to retrieve subscription records in an effort to offer pro-rated refunds to our subscribers.
   For the immediate future, the North Georgia Conference will continue to produce a twice-monthly online version of the Advocate. While paid subscriptions to the North Georgia Advocate have dwindled to approximately 2,500 in recent months, the digital edition has 7,857 email subscriptions.
    The conference’s Communications Office, which is under Connectional Ministries, will be examining various options for meeting the increasing demands of the conference in the coming months and years.
    What will be more difficult to do is replace the warm, personal connection people have to a newspaper. Working as a department head and senior editor at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for many years, I took a perverse comfort when people would call to loudly, often profanely, complain about a story, headline or photograph we had published. Their passion and anger not only said they cared, but that the newspaper was something personal.
   Former AJC editor Jim Minter, a faithful United Methodist, once wrote that there are three things every man thinks he can do better than any other man: Drive a car, stoke a fire and edit a newspaper.
   Few people have the same emotional connection to broadcast news, internet sites or blogs. That’s why my former colleagues who are working at cable news stations and internet new sites do not field angry calls from consumers.
    In practical terms, people do not get emotional if a blog suddenly disappears or an internet news site goes dark. Many people grieve over the demise of a newspaper. Unfortunately, there simply are not enough people to make the economics viable.
    I always found it fascinating that even if a particular event had taken place days or weeks beforehand, and most everyone had already been aware of it, how important it was for people to see an item about their event, and perhaps a photo, published in the Advocate.
    There is a certain quality about having an item or photo appear in print that gives it validation that other forms of communication cannot match. But then again, print cannot compete with the speed and efficiency of communications in a digital age.
   I cannot begin to calculate how often I received a message that included the phrase, “Is it too late to get this in the Advocate?”
   Almost without exception, I would answer: No.
   Unfortunately, I can’t say that any longer. I wish that wasn’t the case. I wish there was more we could do about it. 
    But the train left the station a long time ago.
To be included in our online report: Send your news and information to North Georgia Advocate Editor Glenn Hannigan at glenn@ngumc.org, call 678-533-1376, or mail to: North Georgia Advocate, 4511 Jones Bridge Circle, Norcross, GA 30092.
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