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Column: 20
Martin Cahn (2019).jpg
Martin L. Cahn

Wednesday, July 5, 2000.

Sunday, July 5, 2020.

Twenty years.

Twenty years since I became a staff reporter here at the Chronicle-Independent.

Twenty years since I took it upon myself to tell the stories of Kershaw County and its communities to the best of my ability while also writing a weekly column and -- starting a little more than 10 years into my tenure -- maintaining a website and Facebook page as well.

A lot has happened in 20 years.

I’ve helped raise two boys, one of whom will be 20 this October; the other turns 19 in August.

I’ve watched -- and reported on Kershaw County’s reaction to -- the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York City come down and the Pentagon outside of Washington, D.C., be ravaged by terrorists who took over airplanes on September, 11, 2001, killing thousands.

I’ve covered countless crime stories and trials, the names Elizabeth Shoaf (who survived), and Karresha Crawford and Briana Rabon (neither of whom did) etched into my memory forever.

I’ve dived into controversies from the possibility of a YMCA coming to Camden, to whether or not our elected officials correctly adhere to various aspects of the S.C. Freedom of Information Act, especially when it comes to executive sessions.

The list of government meetings I’ve attended -- Camden City and Kershaw County councils, Bethune Town Council (back in my early days), the Kershaw County Board of School Trustees, and the former KershawHealth Board of Trustees -- is seemingly endless.

In late 2004, I began serving as assistant editor on a trial basis. In April 2005, it became official. Seven years later -- and not too far off from my 12th anniversary with the paper, I became editor for the first time.

That was eight years ago, and things have changed since then, too. The C-I has not been immune to the economics of journalism. In a way, we’ve been fighting that since I came here. With the technology and software behind the collective global drive to the internet, which brought with it the rise of social media, it’s become harder to “train” a generation -- perhaps two of them -- to understand that a newspaper is where the real news comes from.

It doesn’t come from whoever can “shout” the loudest on Facebook or Twitter. It doesn’t come from Tik-Tok videos or snappy podcasts. Unfortunately, there are millions of people who think it does.

Although it’s often credited to Washington Post President and Publisher Philip Graham in 1963, it was actually 20 years earlier, in 1943, that Post editorial writer Alan Barth wrote that, “News is only the rough draft of history.”

By invoking that, I mean to say that journalism -- what you read in the newspaper or on our website -- is almost always the first place where the public can begin to understand the history that is taking place around them.

You may see a post on Facebook, or a video on Instagram -- perhaps even live streamed -- but it’s here, in pages of the C-I, where you get the full who, what, when, where, how and, most importantly, why about a story.

Unfortunately, there are fewer people to tell the stories that way. As I said, even we at the C-I are not immue to the reality of today’s journalism. Our editorial staff, led by Publisher Mike Mischner, currently consists of myself and Sports Editor Tom Didato. We are supplemented by Lee County Observer Editor Gee Whetsel, who helps cover some of our government meetings here in Camden, and feature writer Salley McInerney.

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic hasn’t made it any easier, I can assure you.

This is certainly a different landscape than when I came here 20 years ago as a staff reporter under Editor Martha Bruce, and alongside Tom; the late Sheila McKinney, our esteemed Localife editor; and two other reporters, Jessica Barfield and Kristy Rupon.

Other reporters have come and gone during these 20 years -- Jim Tatum (three times!), Frank Johnson, LaDonna Beeker, Lisa Wheeler, Jade Anderson, Teri Hyder, Keri Boyce, Michael Ulmer, Ashley Ford, Haley Atkinson, Tennell Felder, Miciah Bennett, the late Gary Phillips, and a few others whose names escape me right now. (Hey, I’m 20 years older!) They all contributed to our mission of telling the real news of Kershaw County and its communities.

I often told the staff, especially when they first joined: Kershaw County is 740 square miles large and has (currently) more than 66,000 residents. That’s more than 66,000 potential stories, you just have to go out and find them.

It has been my privilege and my honor to try doing that for two decades now. I hope I have succeeded in that attempt in your eyes.

Now, let’s see what lies ahead in the years to come.

(Martin L. Cahn is editor of the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C. Email him at mcahn@chronicle-independent.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/martin.l.cahn.)