The decision to shutter This Is Brown County has not been an easy one. In fact, it took us a year to make the decision, and even then we all had to do some deep soul-searching before the final call was made. You’ve already heard from the others, so I’m going to try not to repeat what they said. There are things, however, that demand repetition for emphasis.
While Kim, Linda, J.P. and I have been the faces of TIBC from a business perspective, all of you are what has made this adventure special. You see, we set out to provide you with news and information that was important to you, and in the process, we—or rather, you—built a community.
We became a community that helps others in their time of need. I’ll never forget the tears I cried the first time we reported on a house fire in which a family lost everything. The tears weren’t for the family, as heartbreaking as that was for them, but for the outpouring of support the TIBC community provided them by donating clothing and other household goods to help them in their time of need.
That got the ball rolling and it seemed every time there was another tragedy, our community-within-a-community came out in even bigger droves to help.
And then there are the prayer warriors. We all believe in the power of prayer, and it’s obvious that many of you do, as well. The number of prayers that have been lifted from inside this community every time we report on a traffic accident or another potentially tragic event has blown our minds. I continue to be amazed by this.
When we all left the Brown County Democrat in 2009, we did so because we believed in this community and felt that you were best served by a media outlet that was owned by Brown Countians, like you. In fact, the original description we provided for TIBC stated that we were locally owned, locally operated and locally empowered.
Those always were my two favorite words in that statement, because it meant that all the decisions were being made with Brown County’s interests first. We weren’t a bunch of “suits” sitting in a glass office in another county who drove our sports cars to Brown County only once or twice a year to mingle with the peons whose paychecks we sign.
No, we are blue-jean wearing, Brown County-loving locals and long-time transplants (21 years in October) who understand the cycle of ups and downs in the local economy. We don’t demand unrealistic profits while hanging on to an antiquated business model, and shoot… we never really considered ourselves a business as much as we did a community service, anyhow.
And that was probably our downfall. But you know what? I think we made our point. We showed that it is possible to deliver news and information THAT IS IMPORTANT TO YOU in an immediate manner, that builds on current technology without first saying to ourselves, “How are we going to pay for this?”
Whenever we decided to try something new and potentially risky, it always started with a, “Hey, what do you think about…” instead of calling a meeting of the decision-makers and trying to figure out how to monetize the effort before stepping out and actually trying it. And if we stepped out and fell on our faces, we summarized it with, “Oh, well, we tried,” and didn’t have to explain to anyone why a particular adventure failed or to try to figure out how to pay for it.
In fact, mostly, we paid for everything in sweat equity (and some advertising sales) and the pleasure of knowing that you appreciated it.
But now, it’s time for you to take this to the next level. Because we’ve proven that it is possible to do this for five years with just four people working in our spare time, surely a big regional media company can do the same and figure out how to support it financially.
You can make that happen. You are empowered. Demand that they try harder. Make them give you more news, better and faster information, and a forum in which to build a community like you did with TIBC. The fine folks who work in the newsroom at the Brown County Democrat are hard-working people who are doing most of the legwork already. But the bean-counters sitting at their multi-thousand-dollar conference tables inside glass offices in another city must first be convinced that a 10-percent profit line isn’t always the most important thing.
What IS the most important thing? It’s community.
So do it. Do it not for us, but for you, so you can build another community-within-a-community and continue to support each other as you have been for almost five years. You CAN make that happen. We devoutly believe the local newspaper is charged with being the eyes, ears and mouth of the people, not of the government or the big businesses. Unfortunately, that changed all over the place when local newspapers themselves became big businesses.
Meanwhile, a friend of TIBC is planning to pick up where we are leaving off, and we support her effort whole heartedly. Melanie Voland has launched a Facebook site called All Things Brown County, and I encourage you to both follow and support her adventure by creating a communty there just as you did with us.
I expect Melanie will do a much better job keeping you informed than the other local news option.
What’s next for me?
I have been covering and photographing Brown County as a journalist and photojournalist for about 12 years now, and it’s going to be hard to stop me from continuing. At least the photography part of that.
When I started working at the Brown County Democrat, I did so on a challenge from myself. At the time, sports coverage wasn’t deemed as important as I felt it should have been. Newspapers in surrounding communities had several pages with a section front devoted to their student-athletes, but the Democrat was providing nothing comparable.
I arranged to work as a freelance sports writer and photographer for as long as it took for the powers-that-be to realize that I was valuable enough to be given a full-time position. When I was asked how long I thought that would take, I said I wasn’t sure, but expected it to take a year, maybe two.
Ten months in, I accepted their offer to work mostly full-time—35 hours per week—doing what I set out originally to do, as well as covering several other beats. Over the years, those at some point included just about everything, including county government, town government, police and courts, schools, and more. But my heart always went back to the kids and their athletic endeavors.
I want, however, to toss in a disclaimer here: I am not one of those people who believes sports trumps everything and should be prioritized at the expense of other activities. I do, though, believe that the efforts of the youth in this community are important, and I understand the role participating in organized sports has in the development of children and young adults.
And I understand how good it feels for these Brown County kids to see their pictures or their names in the newspaper, even if they didn’t win the game.
So, even in this “retirement,” I plan to continue attending local sports and other community events and taking pictures, just not with the same frequency. I have to—it’s a core part of my being. You will continue to find me on the sidelines of some of the football and soccer games, sitting on the floor at the end of the basketball court, and standing in the middle of Van Buren or Jefferson street taking pictures of whatever parade is coming through town—just not as often.
I will share those images with All Things Brown County from the Facebook page and website I operate for my photography business. I promise you that I’m not trying to solicit page views and Facebook likes, but I certainly encourage you to follow along at my website, www.rodneymargison.com, and on my Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/RodneyMargisonPhotography.
As a bonus, you will also get to see when I post examples of the other types of photography I do, particularly portraits.
Archiving the past
Now for a bit of TIBC housekeeping…
Next week, when TIBC becomes history, I plan to do a couple of things. As the administrator of the ThisIsBrownCounty.com URL, I am going to continue to pay for the domain renewal and the web hosting so TIBC can remain alive as an archive of all we’ve done in the last five years. I am also going to keep the TIBC Facebook page open, but essentially locked down, so no one can post or comment.
Not only am I doing this for the purpose of maintaining an archive for the community, but also to keep someone else from swooping in, swiping the domain and doing things with it with which we wouldn’t want to be associated.
Ditto with our Twitter account and all the other social media sites to which we belong.
So please don’t “unlike” TIBC come next Tuesday. We will be dormant, but in the highly-unlikely event that one of us were to ever change our mind, we’d love to not have to start over from scratch.
I will close by saying This Is Brown County has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done in my career. The love and support of the community you built around us has shown me that we named this adventure properly. Thank you for all of that, and I’m sure I’ll be seeing many of you around.
And remember, life IS different here—you are empowered to make certain that continues to hold true.