Actually, more than a hundred times; 102, to be exact. What am talking about? This June 5th, 2015 edition of Athens Now marks the 102nd time I have “put the paper to bed.” How did I get here? Well, you can blame everyone from God, to my husband Steve, to that rascal, Jerry Barksdale, (whose latest yarn appears on page….), to Wayne and Deborah Huff; but I ain’t complainin’, in fact, I am celebrating!
While I never, ever had any notion of being an author, a writer, and good heavens, a newspaper publisher, I intend, in the body of this op-ed, to convince you that you should “never say never.”
I always liked English, and it came easy for me, but writing was mostly something one did for assignments. I wrote some poetry, privately, and columns for homeschool and ministry newsletters. I also composed a fair number of songs, some of which got published, but writing was a means to an end, and not a mission.
Then, I had the adventure of a lifetime, and spent 2004-2007 in Baghdad. A Juice Plus client of mine, who is a real-live, highly trained professional writer and editor, encouraged me to send home an e-zine from the Great Sandbox, which I did. She also put me in touch with Morgan James Publishing Company out of New York, and miracle of miracles, they published my first attempt at serious writing, A Ballad For Baghdad: An Ex-Hippie Chick Viet Nam War Protestor’s Three Years In Iraq.
I got home from Iraq in April of 2007, and Ballad was published in November of 2008. I took about a year and a half to market the book, and then, it and I kind of stalled out.
In February of 2010, I met Jerry Barksdale at the Alabama Veterans’ Museum, and that was all she wrote. At the time, Athens Now was owned by the people who started it, Wayne and Deborah Huff, and to this day Deborah is one hard working one woman sales force. Jerry mentioned me to the Huffs, who hired me to write for them, beginning that same month.
One year later, they decided to go a different direction, and after prayer, consideration and consternation, we decided to buy the paper. My life has never been the same.
At first I faced every publication cycle, (affectionately known as Pub Week, where one might be tempted to live in one, a pub, that is), with a knot in my stomach, and wondering if I was going to toss my cookies. All nighters were the order of the day. I had no idea what I was doing, and the lingo, the biz, the invoicing, the collecting, the not being able to collect, all of it threatened to swamp me. Like all good life lessons, it was sink or swim, and by God’s grace, I began to swim, (or at least, dog paddle somewhat lamely).
I inherited a dear set of columnists, and found some of my own. My production guy, Jonathan Hamilton, should be sainted for what he has endured with me, and has become a dear friend. Hunter Williams has helped with delivery, Rachel Clark with editing, Teddy Wolcott with the online edition. We laugh hard, every edition, and also sometimes we want to tear our hair out. We always wonder how it is going to come together, but somehow, it does.
Now Athens Now is being read in 5 towns, 3 counties and in over 120 locations. Its hard copy circulation is 4,000, and in an era when newspapers are being seen as dinosaurs, we are not dying out. Due to the miracle of technology, we now also being read in my beloved Iraq and Israel, in China, Uzbekistan, and elsewhere. We have over 1,000 Google index pages, domestically we get more than 100,000 hits on the online edition and no one is more surprised than I am.
However, it is you, oh dearest of readers, that have made me forever glad that I said yes to what is at times an extraordinarily high level of discomfort. You have emailed me, come up to me on the street, thanked me for what I am doing, and cheered me on.
Your stories have warmed my heart, and it has been my pleasure to tell them. Thank you forever for making it possible to say with joy and at least a touch of confidence, “If I’ve done this once, I’ve done it a hundred times.”
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner