Last week was a particularly busy week at The Newnan Times-Herald.
We’re taking a real look at the paper and trying to make it even better. One example is our new home and garden section making its debut today.
Also, yesterday was International Newspaper Carrier Day. The observance – created by the Newspaper Association of America – pays tribute to those intrepid folks who get up in the night to deliver newspapers.
As I tell our carriers when I meet up with one, all that we do in the newsroom doesn’t matter much without them delivering the paper itself.
I’ve also been mulling over news from early last week about the dismissal of a complaint against a North Georgia judge who asked that felony charges be brought against a newspaper publisher in her area.
Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver had asked that charges be brought against Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus, and his attorney. Thomason had been trying to find out if another judge in the Appalachian Circuit used a racial slur in court. The trial transcript did not show use of a slur, but Thomason’s efforts to get the tape of the proceedings from the court reporter were rebuffed.
The court reporter ultimately sued Thomason for expenses related to the issue, but she had – in fact – already been paid with court funds. When Thomason and his attorney, Russell Stookey, took legal steps to get copies of canceled checks to show that payment, they ended up spending the night in jail.
That worries me. In the United States of America, where the Constitution states no law shall be made abridging freedom of the press, journalists should not wind up in jail for asking questions and seeking verification of facts. Although the First Amendment guarantee does not require that journalist’s hunches be right, Thomason was not on a fishing expedition. His suspicions that the court reporter had been paid with public funds were absolutely true.
When I heard the Judicial Qualifications Commission was being reworked, my analysis was that the board was being defanged and that judges would no longer be held accountable. The dismissal of the complaint against Weaver proves that point in spades.
I agree completely with the Society of Professional Journalists’ response that the JQC “appears to be more interested in defending Judge Weaver’s honor than considering facts.”
Even more troubling is that Weaver was chair of the JQC until she resigned a year ago, in the midst of her wrangle with the Fannin Focus. The most troubling aspect of all is that the Fannin Focus is now closed. A lack of respect for the First Amendment has cost Georgians in that part of the world one of their sources for information.
Newspaper carriers are great folks. What they carry is important.
Winston Skinner is the news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald.