Hello, Perry County. My name is Jim Phillips. I recently became the new editor of The Logan Daily News and Perry County Tribune, and I wanted to tell you a bit about myself before this big adventure really starts hopping.
I’ll start by confessing that while I like to consider myself a pretty seasoned journalist, taking on the task of editing two venerable local newspapers is still slightly scary — albeit in a good way. Both the Daily and the Tribune have served for decades as vital sources of news for their communities, and carrying on that heritage is a responsibility I very much want to live up to.
Much of my working life has been spent in grassroots, small-town journalism. I like it a lot, I seem to have a knack for it, and I think the need for it today is as great as it’s ever been. Maybe greater; in a time when the once-disturbing phrase “fake news” has been nearly worn out through sheer repetition, the simple act of reporting accurately on a tax levy or city council meeting seems to take on a whole new value.
I learned my craft over more than two decades of writing for The Athens News in neighboring Athens County, where I worked my way up from freelancer to associate editor to senior writer. During that time I also contributed many regional stories to the Columbus Dispatch as a stringer.
My time as a reporter and columnist in Athens taught me the basics of solid journalism, which for me essentially boil down to clarity, accuracy, relevance and fairness. But it also showed me that a good local newspaper can have a kind of natural, reciprocal relationship with the community it serves.
I don’t know if it’s humanly possible for a journalist to live in and report on a tightly knit community for an extended period of time without becoming a part of it, and feeling a personal stake in its well-being. Maybe it is. But in my own case, years of covering Athens County and southeast Ohio turned me, for better or worse, into a kind of embedded reporter, whose work was informed by a sense of commonality with the people and institutions I wrote about.
This doesn’t mean I focused only on “positive” news, or didn’t report critically on local government or business when it was called for. Falling to fill that watchdog role would have been failing the public.
But it does mean that I was always on the lookout for the kinds of stories that take pride and pleasure in local residents and local culture. And that when I did write to spotlight problems, I tried to be rigorously fair, and to keep in mind that no matter how thorough your reporting, there’s always more to the story.
I also learned to value feedback from my neighbors, whether praise or censure. If someone recognized me on the street and stopped to tell me how much they appreciated a story, it gave me an ego boost and the encouragement to keep at it. If they chewed me out for sloppy or biased reporting, it pushed me to defend my work, or to address its shortcomings. This made me better at my job, and I’m grateful for it.
I’ve lived in Appalachian Ohio for long enough now that it feels like home. But I know I still have a lot to learn about Hocking and Perry counties and the people who live here, and I’m inviting our readers to help me in that process. If you think there’s something it would be good for me to know, or just want to introduce yourself, by all means shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Without feedback from the community, I’ll be fumbling in the dark.
At the moment I’m still spending most of my time and energy just on mastering the digital nuts and bolts of my new job(s), but once I get my sea legs under me I hope to start thinking about possible ways to enhance the news coverage the two papers provide. Again, suggestions are welcome. Some changes are already in the works, including a layout redesign, and it will be energizing and fun to take part in them.
I realize I have size 15 extra-wide shoes to fill in taking over from the estimable Deb Tobin. But with your assistance, and that of our exceptionally hard-working and competent reporters, I’m ready to do my best to build on the legacy of two fine local papers.