By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It was ten years ago this month that Wayne and Deborah Huff started Athens Now: information & inspiration, and I have had the adventure of a lifetime being a part of it since 2010. It is actually Jerry Barksdale’s fault that I got started with the paper, and I will cheerfully and forever always hold that over his head. Wayne and Deborah had contacted him about doing some front cover advertorial writing, and his reply was, “I can’t, but I think I know someone who would be good at it.” That led to my having a lively breakfast meeting with Wayne at Cracker Barrel that lasted for hours, and an observer of our meeting, who is also a friend, said with a laugh, “You guys were clearly discussing something important, so I thought it best not to interrupt.” That “something important” would eventually serve to radically alter the course of my whole life and career.
For a year I wrote for Wayne and Deborah, enjoying their family, being treated like family, and then in 2011 they decided to sell the paper. My adventuresome husband Steve felt that it would be a good idea for us to buy it, and I did too, but boy, was I scared. Besides writing A Ballad For Baghdad, which certainly was a challenge in its own right, the sum total of my experience with anything remotely resembling producing a publication was when I was on yearbook staff during my junior year in high school, and that was during the Ice Age.
The day “the deal” went down, we met at Jack’s on Highway 31 in Athens, and on the hood of the car Steve counted out the many bills it took to make Athens Now ours, which Wayne then put in his pocket. Wayne and Steve laughed over the fact that it looked like a drug deal. Steve has always been way more comfortable with carrying cash than have I, and most of the time I am glad that he is that kind of guy. However, if I had been a police officer watching this transaction, I would have had cause to think that perhaps something nefarious was occurring, and probably at the very least would have flashed some lights and asked to see some ID.
So, the deal was done, the handshakes were made, the copies of the contracts were signed and dispensed, and I was essentially tossed in the pool of production and told to swim. I don’t think I was as scared to go to Iraq as I was to entering the world of community newspapers!
Thankfully, I had my Heavenly Father; the Huffs; Steve; and my uber-talented, kind, patience-of-Job production guy Jonathan Hamilton to give me ballast. Ever so slowly I got to the place where I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up on Publication Day, which is the first and third Wednesday of every month. They believed in me when I had little reason to believe in myself, and just thinking about it as I write this puts a knot in my throat. I also have had an amazing crew that has worked hard to provide articles, do the editing, the website, help with delivery, and more. You know who you are, and that is why I thank you from the bottom of my heart every time we publish a new edition.
Clients have become comrades-at-arms, and have cheered me on. They have also stretched and challenged me to grow on the inside in any number of ways, and I am deeply grateful. Because of their investment in Athens Now, in an era when newspapers are dying, we are not. Our plucky little paper is defying the odds, and I remain stunned. We are now read all over the US and even the world, and no one could have anticipated that the antics of folks in Athens, AL would go global.
Speaking of “throat knots,” the “repeat offenders” who create that chronic condition in my upper alimentary canal, are the many people, oftentimes complete strangers, who come up to me on the street or in the grocery store and say things like, “You’re the Athens Now lady! I read your paper from cover to cover every time it comes out!” It never fails to floor me, especially when I get mail that accuses me of denying the Holocaust or producing trash. You have no idea what your support has meant to me, to us, especially during the times I have hit the wall and wondered, “Why was it we decided to do this, again?”
And so, my dear, dear readers, please know that my heart is full, my eyes are moist, and it’s all your fault. Thank you again, and here’s to another ten years!