Selma is stronger for the hurdles it overcomes

Published 3:41pm Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Over the years, I‘ve had the opportunity to go out and find young journalists to come work at the Times-Journal.

During the interview process — and particularly during their visits to Selma — I share with them the tremendous opportunity provided them in beginning their careers here in Selma.

In the midst of our talks, I share with them the amazing events they have the chance to cover including the annual Bridge Crossing Jubilee, where they could very likely will get to meet and interview some of the most prominent leaders in our country; I talk about Pilgrimage, where they get a unique, close-up view of some of the area’s most iconic and historic homes and buildings.

I’m also very clear in the pace at which we operate, the expectations the community has for this newspaper and the tremendous experience they will garner in a very short time.

Some of that experience includes covering stories that are tragic and horrific. Unfortunately, this year, many of our young reporters got that very experience far too often.

Twelve times this year, our newspaper had to begin a story using the word “murder.” Twelve times this year, an obituary came through our email, detailing the funeral services for someone “murdered.”

The images I have in my mind for the past year are both fantastic and terrible.

On one hand, my wife and I welcomed the birth of a new son, and on the other I remember standing behind a police tape barrier with former Times-Journal reporter Sarah Cook at a murder scene on King Street.

On that hot Saturday afternoon, she and I watched as the murder victim’s body was removed and family was consoled. We watched as investigators asked grieving family members about the victim and if they knew of anyone that would shoot and kill their loved one.

In Dallas County, 13 burials were held saying goodbye to a loved one taken far too early, taken by the hands of someone else.

And although all were tragic, none of them seemed to resonate in Selma more than the last murder of the year; the shooting death of 18-year-old Alexis Hunter.

Sarah Robinson, the newest member of our newsroom took the lead in covering the story. She talked to the family, interviewed Alexis’ mother and attended her funeral.

It is this experience Sarah will undoubtedly remember wherever her career takes her. But it’s not the only one.

And, the horrific events we cover are not the ones that shape our lives, nor shape our love for Selma.

There is no doubt, 2013 was a horrific year in many ways. I know, we were there to cover it.

But, we were also there to celebrate the moments we should also remember, such as the Bridge Crossing Re-enactment, when Vice President Joe Biden drew the attention of the nation and the world on Selma as he talked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge.

I was with the press pool, along with former Times-Journal reporter Robert Hudson, just a few feet in front of the vice president as he made that walk.

There was the opening of a new cupcake shop in Selma, EvMarie’s Cupcakery, that thrilled the soul of a newsroom that could eat just about anything.

Right out the newspaper’s back door, we watched two firework celebrations, that not only lit up the night sky, but reflected majestically off the Alabama River.

And, it was right out that back door, that some of my young journalists viewed and covered both tragedy and triumph all at the same time.

In January, a Selma resident attempted suicide by jumping from the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Moments later, as that woman fought for her life, Doug Bacon, an Auburn University graduate student made his way into the river and pulled the woman from the water, saving her life.

As they were trained to do, three young journalists all grew up a little when they fought back the natural emotions we all have in viewing such a thing, and raced over the bridge to get the story; in this case, a story of celebration as the woman survived.

During my time in Selma, I have had the chance to work with some of the finest young people this business has attracted in quite some time. They have been from Alabama, Auburn, Troy, LSU, AUM, UAB and even Ball State in Indiana.

And, in each case, I have lived up to my promise. They have covered Jubilee; they have covered Pilgrimage; they have covered the Battle of Selma and the annual Tractor Show in Orrville.

They have covered youth baseball, homecomings, grand openings and celebrated along side family as someone turns 100.

They have also covered house fires where families lost everything and murders where families were ripped apart by a bullet.

As I bring these young journalists to Selma, I tell them everything I’ve already shared, but I also tell them Selma is a beautiful place, a place where I am proud to call home and raise a family with my wife.

It is a place where faith runs deep and despite the tragic things that garner the biggest headlines, it is not a place that is shaped by tragedy. Rather, it is a place that rallies together and is stronger for the obstacles it overcomes.

Selma is a historic city that makes history every day. As editor of The Selma Times-Journal, the oldest daily newspaper in Alabama, it is my pleasure to cover Selma and Dallas County and a pleasure to bring the best and brightest to the newspaper to work along side me.

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