My first assignment as an Ohio University student intern in the Athens Messenger newsroom was to write an article about the Starlight Ball.

I don’t exactly know why I recall that — maybe because to a young 21-year-old journalism student it sounded exotic and important.

When I graduated from the Scripps School of Journalism that spring, I jumped at the chance to join The Messenger’s staff as the crime and courts reporter.

I knew nothing about law enforcement or the criminal justice system except what I had seen on television or in the movies. But the law enforcement community, attorneys and judges took me under their wing and guided me how to follow cases through the process. Steve Robb and Roy Cross taught me where to look for information that maybe people weren’t ready to talk about yet — or didn’t want to talk about at all.

Now, 25 years later, I’ll have go through that same learning process as I find my sea legs at the Ohio Statehouse, where I’ll be lobbying on behalf of all of Ohio’s daily and weekly newspapers as the new president and executive director of the Ohio News Media Association. I’ll help reporters from throughout the state who call the legal hotline and I’ll be spearheading revenue-generation efforts by AdOhio, the association’s advertising agency.

Last week, I had to register as a lobbyist. I’ll admit, for someone who minored in political science and is a political news junkie, it sounds pretty cool. I can’t wait to get my Statehouse identification card and be “official”.

This week, I will walk out of the door at The Athens Messenger knowing that the next time I walk in, it will no longer be my building. I’ll be a “visitor” or a “guest.” It’s a pretty weird feeling. My kids have been in this building and in The Logan Daily News since before they could walk.

So why, you may ask, would I choose to leave such a wonderful place with amazing, hard working people? Because it is time.

I have an opportunity to fight the bigger fight on behalf of not just APG’s newspapers but all of Ohio’s newspapers. Reporters who are hampered by public records and open meetings laws that sometimes aren’t followed. Advertising reps who are hindered by the false narrative that “print is dead” — an epitaph prematurely started years ago by their competitors in broadcast, outdoor and digital advertising. (You’re reading this; why wouldn’t you read an ad in the same paper?)

I’ve had the privilege of working in this business for a long time, and I have never seen the press and First Amendment under such vicious and unrelenting attack as now — at a time when the industry is already facing serious revenue concerns as retail evolves and clients and readers’ preferences for print versus digital platforms change.

I don’t know where it’s all going and I don’t think anyone truly does. But I do know this: journalists occasionally do make mistakes. They do NOT make up the news. Is there the occasional bad apple who makes the whole profession look bad? Sure. Just like those people exist in every profession — whether its medicine, law, sports or education.

We are fortunate that our communities seem to appreciate having a local paper. You may not always agree with what’s in it. You may wish it had more of this or less of that. But please understand how lucky you are that your community still has local journalists. They work hard. They’re underpaid compared to other professions. They care about the people they write about. Please support them.

Buy the paper — whether in print or online. Encourage your local business friends to spend their marketing dollars with us — either in the newspaper or through our digital marketing services. Attend and sponsor the newspaper’s events. It’s important. If its all taken for granted, no one else will come here and do this at the level it is already being done. I don’t think people really want a community where you have to cobble together bits of information from Facebook and Twitter and that’s all that exists.

I’m grateful for everyone’s friendship and support as I’ve moved into different chairs in different offices. I have made many wonderful memories, and will continue to live in Logan and be a part of the Southeast Ohio community. It’s time to move on to something new but before I do, I wanted to say thank you to all of you. Whether you’re a reader, advertiser, community partner or co-worker, I’m grateful for the time we spent together and I’m sure the next person to step into this role will come to appreciate all of you as much as I do.

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