The Forsyth County News has been publishing in Forsyth County since 1908 with a mission to inform and entertain users across North Atlanta. Vince Johnson was named publisher in January 2014.
Could you tell me a little bit about your background in media and your current position with the Forsyth County News?
I started in the newspaper industry shortly after college and have now been in the daily grind for a decade. I started as an entry-level videographer at the Statesboro Herald in Statesboro, Ga., moved to Southern California to run the digital side of a newspaper for two years, and now I’ve been the publisher of the FCN for the last three years.
We have challenges in the newspaper world. Some new, some are not. When it comes to running your newsroom, what challenges do you see on a daily basis?
The challenge, especially in a small-to-mid size community, is always how to evolve and innovate while simultaneously keeping up with day-to-day responsibilities.
We have a small staff but a large local audience that relies on us for information every day. Often, deciding on what not to do in terms of local coverage is as important as adding new features and platforms.
Why do you think it is that people say they don’t trust the media anymore? What do you think attributes to that, and how much of that do you see locally with your newspaper?
I think that when people use the term ‘media’ as an overarching umbrella, it’s a little outrageous. When a person disagrees with the stance or delivery of a specific newspaper or television network on a topic, they’re actually disagreeing with the decisions made by a relatively few amount of people. “Media” encompasses a whole lot of people in a whole lot of places, and we don’t all have weekly conference calls.
Different people have different viewpoints, and if your media platform reaches enough people, there will occasionally be people who disagree with you. I think that’s healthy.
Locally, however, we don’t see the same backlash that is happening on a national scale. We’re just local people trying to deliver the best form of local coverage that we can. We’re fully capable as humans of making mistakes, but I think people understand that we’re integrated into our community and providing tremendous daily value.
For hundreds of years now, journalists have been the check and balance for those in a position of power over others. Talk to me about the role of journalists today.
Promoting truth and accountability is perhaps the primary role of journalists, and one that could be at stake across the nation. Newsrooms have been slashed due to budget cuts in recent years, and so there are less journalists today monitoring those in positions of power.
We as journalists provide a barrier to corruption, and we shine a spotlight on injustice.
Especially in local communities, we’re often the only independent monitors in those types of situations. If local journalism continues to decrease across the nation, it could present some real, large-scale systematic problems.
That’s why we’re fighting so hard to keep journalism around.
In what ways has social media affected your newsroom? When anyone with a cell phone and a twitter account can instantly post “news” to the internet, what new challenges does that present trained journalists?
I’m probably in the minority in the newspaper industry, but I love social media. It’s obviously a much, much faster pace of news as compared to the times when a newspaper on your doorstep was the first time you became aware of what happened the previous day, but I find the pressure of providing fast, reliable information to our community exhilarating.
We have a staff at the FCN that really buys into the pace of journalism today.
I know Forsyth County News has been an innovator of video presentation of news and incorporating it with your print products. Can you talk a little bit about how that has helped build trust and connection with the community?
Winning the 2016 Mega-Innovation Award for newspapers – beating the parent companies of both the Dallas Morning News and The Oklahoman in the finals, and being judged by Harvard Business School’s lead innovator – has certainly been a game-changer for our organization.
Forsyth County is a world-class community by most every measure, and it’s important to us to play a large role in the development of our county. That’s the origin of our desire to innovate.
We know Forsyth County expects the best, and so that’s what we try to bring every day, and why we push innovative platforms and technology as hard as we do.
In working with government institutions in Forsyth County, what are some of the highlights and lowlights you have come across as far as transparency and access to information?
We have great relationships with most every organization, including government organizations, in Forsyth County.
However, we know the vital role we play in helping to provide transparency and reliable information to our community, so we’re never afraid to do anything that helps us maintain that community trust.
As long as people and organizations respect our position, we certainly respect theirs as well.
The Georgia Legislature is considering revisions to the Sunshine Laws that would restrict the use of cameras in courtrooms. Should we be promoting increased government transparency, not less of it?
Not only as a journalist, but as a citizen, government transparency is incredibly important to me. If everything is above-board as it should be, there are very, very few instances in which complete transparency shouldn’t be the outcome.
In five years, what changes do you anticipate your company will make in how it reports the news and your community in how it consumes the news?
We’re all about the evolution of our audience. Our goal is simply to provide the most relevant information to our audience in whatever platform they want to receive it.
In the past three years, the audience of the Forsyth County News has grown by more than 400 percent, and it continues to grow at a rapid pace. We love the physical newspaper. We love our website. We love social media and mobile consumption and magazines and community contests, and we’ll be on board with the next innovation of the future.
We just want to be there for our community in whatever shape or form they want to receive news and information.