I sit down to write this very special Editor’s Note exactly five years to the day I published the first post on East Cobb News.
July 8, 2017 was a Saturday, as punishingly hot then as what we’ve been experiencing in recent weeks, and I scrambled to find some shade in the parking lot at Sprayberry High School.
The Cherokee Wingmen Club had organized a fundraiser to benefit the Lcpl Skip Wells Foundation in the memory of the Sprayberry graduate and Marine officer who was killed in a terrorist attack in 2015 at the Chattanooga Naval Marine Reserve Center.
The lot filled with motorcyclists and as they revved up their engines, the sound roared across that busy Northeast Cobb quadrant with a vengeance.
As they filtered out onto Piedmont Road (see photo at the top), I hoped I had enough good photos to put together something publishable with my maiden post.
To be honest, I had no idea when I set out for Sprayberry that day what I was going to do, or if anyone would notice. Not just for that story, but for others that followed.
It was just about getting started with an independent, truly community-focused local news website that I had planned for several months.
What I simply dubbed East Cobb News was actually the culmination of several years of reimagining more than 25 years of journalism experience in the corporate world.
Local news has been especially vulnerable to the catastrophic declines in legacy news media, and local news operations rooted in specific communities are even more endangered.
Corporate media entities like Gannett and investment firms and hedge funds have gobbled up local newspapers and stripped them down to practically nothing, booting longtime journalists and robbing citizens of vital news and information.
A hardy band of independents scattered across the country has been trying not just to fill the gap but offer a throwback to community news the way it used to be done.
My vision wasn’t original—serve readers and advertisers with professionally reported news and useful community information. The blessing of having an all-online format was that this could be done without being beholden to a print production cycle.
I had previously tried my hand at this as the founding editor of East Cobb Patch, a hyperlocal network started by AOL. After that effort foundered, AOL sold it off and I was out of a job.
But a seed was planted in my mind that a ground-up, grassroots approach would serve East Cobb well.
The comments I got from readers was encouraging. Yet going at it this way, especially in an area with The Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—where I had spent most of my newspaper career—and other local outlets was daunting.
Another hyperlocal publisher told me when I started that if you can persevere, you can make it. I had no idea then what that would entail.
Five years, and nearly 4,000 posts later, I’m proud of what’s been built at East Cobb News. Over the last year, we’ve been averaging more than 120,000 page views and 60,000 unique visitors a month, and our newsletter subscribers total nearly 7,000.
There have been challenges and struggles and occasions when I questioned whether what I was doing would ever be enough.
In early 2019, I lost my mother, and that had a profound effect on me that continues today.
For the last two and a half years, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically altered many things. It provided me with a silver lining, as traffic increased due to coverage of the community response, especially schools, business closings, events and more.
Readers had come to this site to learn about those things, and some had expressed the value of what they found here. That, more than anything, helped me to keep pushing forward.
There were days during those initial months of COVID when I wondered if I would write about anything else.
When the vaccines arrived, I received harrowing phone messages from frantic seniors, unable to contact the health department, desperately trying to book appointments.
Then we had educators in the Cobb school district who had died from COVID, and blistering criticisms of the district and school board ensued. Not long after that, a family member of mine became seriously ill from the virus, and it was touch and go for a few weeks before he began to recover.
It was in early 2021 that was the most difficult stretch, when I began to think if I wanted to continue with this. In a long career as a reporter, editor and now publisher, had I had enough?
But readers and so many others in the community helped me through, not just with comments and helpful feedback but by sending their own news of recognitions, honors and accomplishments.
There were so many important stories to tackle that have galvanized this community that couldn’t be ignored: The East Cobb cityhood saga, the Tokyo Valentino adult store controversy, the Mt. Bethel Church dispute, the Sprayberry Crossing and East Cobb Church rezoning cases.
East Cobb News broke and/or led coverage of those stories, the stories that have the biggest impact to this community. I’m especially proud of that, and if it sounds like bragging, my apologies. Focusing on what really matters to a community is the foundation of everything I do.
After a lifetime of answering to corporate managers, and doing the news to curry access to movers and shakers, there’s nothing more gratifying that working on behalf of your neighbors and fellow local business owners and community members.
There is so much more work to do in a vibrant community that continues to change, and I’m eager to get started with that.
We have another round of elections in November, and a new school year is just around the corner. Zoning and development issues continue to resonate in East Cobb, and many local businesses are trying to regain their footing and figure out this post-pandemic world.
So is East Cobb News. Many of the editorial and business plans I set aside as COVID-19 was declared I’m restarting and revising now, and you’ll hear more about them soon.
I’ve sent out a reader survey to ask all of you what you like about East Cobb News, and what you don’t, what you think we can do different, or better.
Your responses (here’s the survey link) will help me guide the next phase of this publication, which I want to grow beyond daily news.
I’m reading through some of the survey results now, and they’re very interesting and helpful. I’ll share them in a future column.
While I don’t really get into too much anniversary stuff, I wanted to take this occasion to thank all of you for your thoughts, suggestions and support over these last five years.
East Cobb News is in this for the long haul, and I want to fashion this into a community voice for all of you. There is no more honorable mission.
Enjoy the rest of your summer, and please stay in touch.
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