Five years into a new adventure

When I left the newspaper business full-time 5 years ago, the business had gotten very tough. You were either unemployed or extremely employed — and I had gotten extremely employed.  I was burned out, and so were many journalists I knew. Newspaper profits were declining if they existed at all, and the resources just weren’t there to get the job done anymore — yet the expectations of workers just became more onerous.

The whole do-more-with-less concept gets wearisome when it actually becomes do more, more, more with less, less, less. Newspaper executives who spent too much time in meetings even came up with ideas to improve the paper that actually made the jobs of myself and others — particularly copy editors and page designers — even more difficult and time-consuming. If they got any more “efficient,” we might never have gotten a paper out.

Like a lot of folks who had been in the newspaper business a long time, though, I felt stuck. I didn’t want to go into PR and sell stuff or spin stories for some corporation.  My skills were pretty limited to telling stories or conveying information in one form or another — not a lot of use for that on the railroad or assembly line.

Thank goodness I had a motivating factor to keep me looking. I was way over on the left side of Georgia in Columbus but had fallen for a pretty lady back in Middle Georgia. So, I kept looking for employment opportunities closer to my old stomping grounds. After months of searching and months of increasing head-butting with newspaper bosses, I stumbled across The Fuller Center for Housing, which was looking for a director of communications.

Having gone to school and worked a few years in Americus, Georgia, I was quite familiar with Habitat for Humanity, but all I knew of The Fuller Center was that it was the organization that Millard Fuller started when he got the boot from Habitat. I learned that it was a grass-roots restarting of the affordable housing movement Millard and Linda Fuller had started 40 years earlier.

The job description was looooong and involved all kinds of stuff I knew little about —managing websites, social media platforms, video, photography, on and on and on. But President David Snell said it boiled down to one thing: “We need somebody to tell our story, because when folks find out about us, they tend to like it.”

I started at The Fuller Center 5 years ago today — on June 6, 2011. It was a real leap of faith out of my comfort zone, but I’m thankful I made the jump. (If I hadn’t, that pretty lady might have quit waiting on me!)

Outside a Fuller Center project in Agomeda, Ghana.
Outside a Fuller Center project in Agomeda, Ghana.

I quickly learned that grass-roots nonprofits like this one don’t get the big bucks that the corporate nonprofits do but donors get way more bang for their buck. If you want to make a real difference through your charitable gifts, give to an organization that is transparent and that you can get to know.

As a Christian housing ministry, The Fuller Center also has shown me that there are religious folks out there doing things right. All Christians aren’t pro-discrimination hate mongers like we see roaming state capitals throughout the South. So much of what I’d seen of Christians in my days had been anti-this and anti-that. I’ve long thought that I agree with Jesus on way too many issues to be an American Christian.  But I’ve met many of what I call “real Christians” who take that “love thy neighbor” thing pretty seriously, and that’s been reassuring.

All Christians aren’t pro-discrimination hate mongers like we see roaming state capitals throughout the South. So much of what I’ve seen of Christians in my days had been anti-this and anti-that. I’ve long thought that I agree with Jesus on way too many issues to be an American Christian.

I’ve learned much on this job, and my horizons have been expanded — and not just into the fields of websites, videos and technology. This job has sent me to places like Ghana and Nicaragua and across the United States to places I never had any intention of visiting — like Atlantic City after Superstorm Sandy and to depressing Gary, Indiana, where I found myself standing on a street between a Fuller Center home going up on one side and fans celebrating the late Michael Jackson’s birthday in front of his boyhood home on the other.

Most importantly, I’ve seen some really good, hard-working people get a helping hand into decent homes. And it’s not a handout — they pay back the costs of this work with zero-percent interest payments into funds to help others in their communities get the same hand-up.

Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but I’ve got a pretty easy job. All I’ve got to do is tell the story of The Fuller Center on a daily basis. It’s not a complicated story, and there’s no spin needed. In fact, it’s really just journalism to me.

I do still write a weekly newspaper column, but I’m out of that business. I sometimes miss the excitement of a big news day and the fiery debates and the mission of bringing facts to folks who now prefer propaganda to journalism, folks who only want information that confirms preconceived notions. They’re not interested in anything that might pop the bubble in which they choose to live.

It frustrates me to see the press so vilified by people who don’t really know what goes on behind the scenes, people who are so apt to believe conspiracy theories about “the liberal media” pushing some agenda. I wish newspaper planning meetings were all on live cams so folks could see the real discussions taking place. It’d bore you to tears as it did me — everybody knows I love meetings — but at least you’d know the truth.

So, while I’m relishing my new life after newspapers, I feel for those First Amendment champions still working those bad hours at too-low pay with declining benefits and almost no appreciation from the folks who desperately need journalism in their lives. And don’t confuse some biased TV commentator with an actual journalist. I think that’s where a lot of folks get confused. There’s a big difference between reporting and commentary. The left-leaning and right-leaning media outlets have blurred that line for too many folks.

To my friends still fighting the good fight in those newsrooms, thank you. There are a few of us who still appreciate you, and those who don’t appreciate you need you probably even more than I do. And to the folks who support The Fuller Center and similar grass-roots nonprofits that know how to get things accomplished, thank you.

And, if you are so inclined, click here to make a $5 donation to The Fuller Center on the occasion of my 5th anniversary here! (Better yet, make it a $5 recurring donation!)

You can learn a little more about The Fuller Center in this video …

And this chat with my boss, David Snell from June 7:


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