Earlier this year, The Insider couldn’t help but comment on the mass exodus that was occurring at The Columbia County News-Times.
After the newspaper laid off several staff members in January and piled triple the work onto the remaining workhorses in the office, Morris Publishing Group announced that The Columbia County News-Times publisher Steve Crawford was suddenly stepping down in February to take a position in his “family-owned real estate venture” in the Augusta area.
The truth was that Morris Publishing was slowly strangling the life out of The Columbia County News-Times by cutting staff, slashing expenses and treating its employees like dogs.
In January, Morris laid off several talented staff members, including veteran photographer Jim Blaylock, who had worked for The Augusta Chronicle and The Columbia County News-Times for 15 years, and sports writer Scott Rouch.
Was there any wonder why Crawford, a well-respected journalist in this community for 20 years, decided to pack his bags and explore other options?
And Crawford wasn’t the only one.
Valerie Rowell, a long-time reporter for The Columbia County News-Times, also decided enough was enough.
Well, apparently, there is definitely truth in the old saying, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Last week, Morris Publishing proudly announced that The Columbia County News-Times had won 27 awards from the Georgia Press Association in the weekly newspaper category, including seven for first place.
And guess who won these prestigious awards?
Basically, everyone who is no longer at the newspaper.
Yep. Congratulations Morris on chasing off your most talented reporters, editors and photographers.
But readers didn’t get that side of the story.
Instead, Morris simply bragged about the awards.
“Photographer Jim Blaylock won eight awards, four individual for first place. Crawford and Rowell won first-place awards in education writing and feature writing, respectively,” the newspaper wrote. “Blaylock, Crawford and Rowell shared a first-place award in the photo gallery on a Web site category.”
Crawford and Rowell also won first-place awards for hard news writing, most likely for their coverage of the Marshall Square fire.
Oh, and it should be noted that Chris Thelen, one of the very talented Chronicle photographers who was also laid off by the newspaper, won a first-place award for sports photography.
But the jokes don’t stop there.
Chronicle reporter Travis Highfield won the Georgia Press Association’s emerging journalist award in the daily newspaper category.
And guess what?
Highfield left journalism in May to work at a startup company at the Atlanta Tech Village.
It’s ironic that the state’s top “emerging journalist” completely just left the field.
Honestly, Highfield is probably smarter than most.
Well, Morris can keep bragging about its awards, but if the company doesn’t take care of its reporters, photographers or editors there won’t be much left to brag about pretty soon.
Journalists and photographers like Crawford, Highfield, Rowell, Thelen and Blaylock aren’t easy to find, especially when the job requires them to work very long hours and juggle several beats and responsibilities for very little money.
So, congratulations to all the journalists working for Morris who were recognized by the Georgia Press Association this year.
You definitely earned it.