By Sam Burnham
I'm sitting here drinking coffee and thinking as the rain falls from the outermost remnants of Hurricane Harvey. My thoughts have often been with the people of Houston this week. Seeing the floodwaters inundate the 4th largest city in the United States has been troubling and humbling.
There has been some nasty criticism of this storm. Seeing the Left react and wondering if the "Conservatives" or "Trumpers" in Texas would be willing to accept government help has been disgusting. Never waste a crisis. Well, I'm no Trumper but I've been very impressed by the results. Seeing that many private citizens respond and lend a hand to their neighbors and assisting the overwhelmed government agencies who were poorly matched for the size and scope of this storm has been refreshing. We've seen a highly diverse city, as well as their neighbors from other states, rise to this occasion and show us that in time of crisis in America, Left and Right, black and white, rich and poor, even Muslim and Christian can work together and get more done than our collective government could have. Good job, Houston.
But I've also seen some criticism of government that might also be a bit unfair. There is a lot of talk about the need to evacuate the city and condemning the mayor for not doing so. Houston is a highly populated metro sprawled out over an immense tract of land. Using Google maps I measured the actual footprint of Houston to cover an area from from Villa Rica to Conyers and then from Alpharetta to Griffin. And then there is over six million people living the metro area. The actual city population is almost 5 times that of Atlanta. And Texas is so spread out hat there is really nowhere immediately to evacuate to, especially when there are six million people to evacuate. The logistics of moving that many people successfully would take at least 72 hours and coordination and cooperation. I just don't think it is realistic to expect this to have happened in the time that Harvey posed and threat and landfall.
But we're now faced with the conundrum of American cities. We've seen New Orleans and Houston both fall victim to hurricane floodwaters. Suggesting that we should do away with cities is silly, even if it sounds good. New Orleans is 300 years old and Houston is nearly 200. These cities hold strategic locations economically. Houston alone is responsible for 27% of all US petrochemical industry. Houston in particular is in a position of being needed more than it needs. It is vital to the economy. This means jobs and jobs mean a population - a population that makes more demand, more jobs, more population, etc. These cities aren't going away.
These cities have specific threats - hurricanes. It is just as specific as earthquakes to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Volcanoes to Seattle, or Tornadoes to Atlanta or Birmingham. The task at hand is how to develop plans, infrastructure, and resources that will allow for some residents to be evacuated, some sheltered in place, and others moved within town to assure people are safe from the dangers.
Regardless of how this situation is to be solved, I want to close with another word of admiration for the regular folks in Houston. The first responders, the Cajun Navy, and each and every neighbor out there looking out for each other. That is America.
By Sam Burnham
There has been some, although I fear not enough, conversation about the announcement that Morris Publishing would be selling 11 daily newspapers in the southeast to Gatehouse Media of Pittsford, New York. I looked Pittsford up so you won't have to. It's just southwest of Rochester, which in on Lake Erie in western New York. Don't feel bad, I didn't know either.
Included in those 11 papers are The Augusta Chronicle, the Athens Banner-Herald, and the Savannah Morning News. The company already operates dailies in Alabama (Tuscaloosa and Gadsden), South Carolina (Spartanburg), Tennessee (Columbia and Oak Ridge), 11 dailies in North Carolina, and nine dailies in Florida. They have a substantial hold on the smaller markets in these states. I was a little surprised to see that they hold both the Gainesville Sun and the Ocala Star-Banner which were the two competing newspapers that my grandparents read.
This story was covered this past week by On Second Thought and I agree with many of the points raised there. When these companies move in and begin to downsize newsrooms, cut staff, print more AP reports and op-eds while offering fewer real local stories, local news suffers. Remembering the newspaper boxes lined up outside Ocala's Plantation Pancake and now realizing that as many as four of them are owned by the same New York based company is a little upsetting.
Even in our online age, the boots on the ground are the people making the stories happen. These are often the same people who leave lasting influence. Bo Whaley, Lewis Grizzard, Henry Grady, Charles Henry Smith (Bill Arp), Douglas Southall Freeman, Margret Mitchell, and Ralph McGill were all local newspaper reporters and columnists. These people all had influences that went beyond the interests of local politics, crime, obituaries, current events, etc. but they were all first and foremost local newspaper writers. And just as Bill Arp and Henry Grady spent their early days on the beat for the weekly Rome Courier today's journalists often get started in these smaller papers. When you combine future stars cutting their teeth alongside seasoned journalists who choose to stay in local news, you can get a really good product and a well informed populace.
Back during the south Georgia tornadoes, I followed the stories from the Atlanta news outlets but I also followed them from The Adel News-Tribune and The Valdosta Daily Times. While even outlets like CNN were covering the story, the reporters from these two local papers live there. They know the details of the area, the people and places involved, and they understand the impact. A person in Pittsford, New York couldn't find Cook County on a map of Cecil. We need these small outlets to be vibrant and locally controlled.
Papers such as those in Columbus, Augusta, and Savannah hold influence in areas of Georgia. Just as the AJC or the Orlando Sentinel may play roles in the Southeast, The Savannah Morning News plays a similar role along the Georgia coast. They play an important role and often report the news to larger outlets. Not even The New York Times can't put someone on every story. They rely on reports from smaller entities to get information on these stories.
Local news is and will always be important. On the ABG Twitter account we often share stories that are posted from the papers in Augusta, Valdosta, Rome, and even Adel because they are telling the stories of what is going on in our state. Some of my old college companions are doing good work just over the state line with the Anniston Star. We retweet stories from there as well. If people support these outlets with subscriptions, purchases, and supporting their advertisers, these entities can remain as healthy as they are important. Locally owned and led news is as important as locally owned businesses (news falsh, it is one) and local control of government. These newspapers are a vital role in our communities and we should demand these corporations offer us more local influence over them or we need to have better local options. Local news needs to be local.
By Sam Burnham
So there is this map making the rounds on Twitter right now. I know it has been around for a few weels but it has just now peppered my feed and I figured it might make a decent diversion from the recent unpleasantness. So let's exp;lore it.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire