Charlotte Atkins

Editor-in-Chief, Rome News-Tribune

Rome, GA

[GA-E 0202]

We had a murder early in the week – a seemingly random one; we had a mother who killed herself and her two kids. There was, I think, a homeless gentleman found dead in the river, and there was other things along the periphery. Then on Thursday, two people were arrested – the man’s wife and his best friend were implicated in his murder. Those families each had three kids, so we had four very high-profile deaths in our community that rocked schools – that rocked churches. And you usually don’t have just that back to back to back big tragic breaking news here.

There was a point in my career here when I would’ve said wow, what a front page – all this breaking front news. And the truth is in that moment I realized, people are going to read every word of our front page, and they were gonna’ feel awful because it was so tragic.

And my mission to my staff that day was to go find some hope. And they looked at me a little bit crazy. And I said, “All these stories involve children – children whose lives have been wrecked in just one way or the other. And I said, “Go find me some hope. Find something that says there are kids in Rome, Ga., who still live these happy, you know, untainted lives so far.”

And someone came back and said, “We’ve got a 5-year-old, singing the national anthem at the Rome Braves game.” I said, “Great. Go get a photo and interview her.” And they’re like: “Interview a 5-year-old?” I said, “Yes, she got picked for that.”

Not a long story but basically I remember that front page across the top we had that headline about the arrest; down the side was a story about the mother who was terminally ill with cancer, and that’s why she killed herself and her kids and her being so distraught. And in the middle of all this chaos in our community was a cute little blonde girl singing the national anthem at our local ballpark, and just a short story about how she auditioned and she got it.

But, my goal was – you know – we didn’t have to blow out the news to make people read those other stories. But I needed to show one child, who was going forth in life and happy.

I worked in California at one point and I loved The San Jose Mercury News. They can take a story and blow it out better than anybody – graphically and packaging – and at one point I was a designer – and on this day – as editor – I didn’t go for a big blowout package on the arrest. I didn’t go for big blowout package on the mother who killed herself and her kids. Those stories didn’t need any help being big stories. People are gonna’ read them.

But my biggest concern is – after people read our front page they were gonna’ be so demoralized and so heartbroken. And I don’t know how much impact having that little girl in the middle of all that mattered, but I like to think it mattered.

I wouldn’t say it was great journalism. It was just perspective.