My Blog

The most rewarding part of being a journalist is the extraordinary people we get to meet.  I often find myself in awe of their stories of courage and compassion.  So I enjoy having the opportunity to put my thoughts on paper.  



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Grownups Don’t Give Kids Enough Credit:

How the Characterization of ‘Freedom’ in Childhood can be chalked up to Willful Amnesia at Best.  

By Greg Gullberg

Feb. 17, 2013 





How often have you heard someone say, “I wish I could be a kid again"?  

They go on and on, "Children have it so easy.  They have no bills, no responsibilities, not a care in the world; they’re just free to have fun whenever they want”. 
 

Your Honor, I object!!!  Being a kid was hard! 


For me life didn't really start until college, when I got to be my own man.  Living on my own was the first time I really felt like I had any freedom at all. 

 

There’s no such thing as freedom for kids in grade school through high school.  I would be slapped on the wrist and grounded for weeks at a time for doing the things back then that I do now without paying them a second thought. 

Today, if I have a couple drinks too many and come crawling out of a taxi straight in the front door stinking of booze, I’ll hear nothing of it from my cats or roommates if I have any at the time.  I can smoke the occasional cigar, watch TV till four o’clock in the morning, splurge on big bottles of top-shelf liquor and I’ll never catch any flack for it.  Try doing any of that as a teenager. 


When I was a teenager, if I wanted to go anywhere I had to ask permission to borrow my parent’s car or worse yet, ask for a ride.  Even if a friend was coming to pick me up, I still had to endure a sharp interrogation of Where are you going?  Who’s going to be there?  What time are you coming home?  Today, I rarely know the answers to any of these questions when I jump in my car, which I paid for with my own money. 


Speaking of money, as a teenager I didn't have any.  Sure my parents gave me an allowance.  But what exactly is a 16 year old kid supposed to do with $2 a week?  Yes, that is a single digit number.  If I wanted anything I had to ask permission, which if I didn't mention is an intensely degrading process and only gives your parents more leverage next time they’re trying to exhibit force over you. 


So if I’m out at a movie or wandering around town and I get hungry, when I was a kid I had to ask for money.  And just asking for it didn't mean you were going to get it.  And earning my own money was difficult because all my time was already consumed by school, studies, year-round football practice, and various other extracurricular activities in the hope of beefing up my resume before college. 


Today, I’m a grown man.  If I get hungry I pull cash money out of my pockets and buy anything and everything I want, because I have a job, because I finished school.  A fast food double cheeseburger, yes please!  Jumbo plate of spicy Buffalo Wings accompanied by a tall beer, I’ll take it!  Hell, just give me a whole triple-layered wedding cake, with the little kissing couple on top, why not? 


And when I used to ask my dad for money it undoubtedly meant enduring the same old games. 

 

“Hey dad, can I have some lunch money for school?”


He gives a long sigh, “How much is it?” 


“The same it is every time I ask every other week.  $25 for two weeks.” 


He looks down and stretches out another long sigh.  Listening to his hum of indecision, the tense anticipation filled the vacant space of the room. 


“Looks like it’s diet week,” he said finally with a sarcastic smirk. 


I knew this was coming, because he did this every time, but somehow I never came up with a good rebuttal.  I shifted my weight awkwardly as I tried to fain some hapless argument over the direct correlation between eating cafeteria lunches and performing well on standardized tests.   Never mind how cafeteria lunches generally meant star-shaped batter coated nuggets with questionable meat product, extra sloppy sloppy-joes, or a scoop of pizza drizzled into a stale bowl of crust and baked to the minimum standards of edibility.  And of course, every meal invariably was served with a side of extra greasy French Fries (or Freedom Fries depending on the political climate). 


Still one thing’s for sure, there was nothing funny about high school.  It was an unrelenting test to your popularity, masculinity and athletic prowess for boys and physical attractiveness for girls.  Heaven forbid you aren't dating the right person or wearing the right clothes to fit in, regardless your sex. 


It was suffocating being herded from one class to the next like cattle through pencil thin hallways, squeezing shoulder to shoulder with literally hundreds of other students.  (And remember grade school when you had to walk a single file line?)  Once you got to class, half the time the teacher had little or no lesson plan drawn up, so they just showed movies the whole period, sometimes decades old sex education films, while they scrolled social media online or drew up new pages for the football team’s playbook. 


The rules were endless.  No food or drinks in class, not even water.  No headphones, not even in the hallways between classes.  If you wanted to say something you would have to raise your hand and wait to be called upon.  How many of these rules remained once you got to college?  In my experience: none. 


And for me the single biggest problem with grade school through high school was waking up at six o’clock in the morning every day because if I wasn't in class by 7:25 a.m. when first bell rang that meant I was tardy – and too many of those gets you in big trouble. 


Yet, once I got to college, I fought tooth and nail to never have a class that started any earlier than nine a.m. again.  The only sunrises I ever saw in college were when I pulled all nighters, studying without sleeping a wink, or the occasional caffeine induced dorm party that went way too late. 


Sure, there seems to be a population of people who (inexplicably to me) actually enjoyed high school (socially mature morning people), and then there are those who peaked in high school (popular kids who never grew up). 

But it seems to me that most people tend to find themselves in college, a time of exploration (freedom), and plenty will gladly tell you how they wished they could stay there forever.  But consider for a moment, maybe those people just don’t remember how difficult it was studying for term papers, pulling all nighters literally foregoing sleep, and praying they would have a job or grad school acceptance letter waiting for them when it was all said and done. 


One might argue in fact, many career people don’t give college students enough credit.  But maybe that’s a debate best saved for another time. 

Is the Newspaper Business Really Dying?  Doubtful. 

By Greg Gullberg
Jan. 06, 2013


I recently watched a 60 Minutes story on how New Orleans is now the biggest city in the country without a daily newspaper. 

The Times-Picayune has it’s back up against the ropes, so to cut costs, they will only be publishing three days a week.  But they’re still online 24/7. 

The people of New Orleans are outraged and everyone says this is another major victim of the dying newspaper business.  

Your Honor, I object!!!  


Some may say I have an outlier’s opinion on the matter.  The restructuring of the newspaper business is actually something I've thought about quite a bit and even wrote about in Journalism School.  To this day I've never heard what I would consider a convincing argument as to why this is a bad thing.  Why do people consider newspaper journalism and ink on a page to be so inextricably linked?  


In my mind, every financially struggling newspaper in the country should willingly do exactly the same thing the Times did.  The process of printing a newspaper is costly and slow.  What value does reading yesterday’s news in your morning paper have when you could have read it online as it was published?  


In fact, if I lived in New Orleans I might not even notice the difference because I personally would never pay for my news.  Generally speaking, online news is just like broadcast news: free, the way news should be. 


Overall, I personally object to the notion that the newspaper business is dying; it’s simply restructuring.   And in my opinion catching up to the modern era.  


Allow me to throw another thought out there.  One could argue that this makes the Times-Pic more environmentally friendly.  Newspapers are wasteful.  A folded up chunk of shredded lumber tossed at every door step.  And as I always say, “Yesterday’s newspaper is about as good as yesterdays’ toilet paper”.  


The bottom line:  It’s a tough sell to convince me newspapers are dying when I read the paper literally every day… on my computer.  


In case you missed it:  
http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=50138326n

A Conversation With The Math Teacher Whose Class I Was In During 9/11

By Greg Gullberg
TBD

Coming Soon

 

A Journalist & A Gentleman: Walking The Thin Line Between Aggressively Chasing The Story And Maintaining Your Sense Of Humanity

By Greg Gullberg
TBD

Coming Soon

 

Valdosta:  A Blue Collar Town

By Greg Gullberg

March 10, 2013





When I took my first job as a news reporter, I was so desperate I literally accepted the first offer I got.  Little did I know I was about to redefine small-time newsman


I had applied to work at the main station in Tallahassee for WCTV, the market leader in Florida’s state capitol, but the offer from Channel Six gave me only one option and that meant having a Georgia address. 


“We want you to be a reporter for us in our Valdosta bureau,” the News Director said.   

 

“Where’s Val-D’oh-sta?” I asked, unable to mask my disappointment.  I later learned this precise mispronunciation was a common mistake among newcomers to South Georgia. 
 

For the longest time I looked at my appointment as a bureau reporter like a prison sentence.  It was less about my surroundings, and more about the reluctant detachment from my co-workers.  

For me, it meant everything to be a newsroom leader, chasing breaking news and commanding Live Shots.  Sure, I still got to do that in the bureau, but it wasn't the same.  



What I didn't realize was the profound impact Valdosta would have on me.  I never expected to be moved so deeply by these small town people.  To be taken aback by their hardworking nature and inspired by their enduring spirit.  And Valdostonians are nothing, if not hard working and family-oriented.  

In the bureau, I was marooned 80 miles from the main station, I had been castoff to this small South Georgia outpost, just a stone’s throw from the Florida line.  A true blue collar city.  Comfortable in its traditions.  And a short drive to nowhere. 


Valdosta was a town that moved to the beat of its own southern drum.  Law officials kept the news at an arm’s length.  Some Sheriffs wouldn't admit that anyone had ever so much as taken the Lord’s name in vein in their county, much less a murder or robbery.  Corruption and scandal sizzled like the fried chicken served on every dinner plate, the smaller the department or City Hall the hotter the flame.  But outsiders, and especially journalists, were met with only silence, like walking the streets of downtown on a Sunday.  A southern drawl almost acted as a secret handshake.  And the church you attended told volumes about your social status.  


Most of my colleagues would quickly admit they've never been to these South Georgia towns, and disinterested outsiders will proudly admit they've never even heard of Valdosta. 


But there was one day of the year that put this small town on the map for the world to take notice.  One single day that united the divided factions of the Azalea City, rich and poor, young and old, across all divides.  That day was the Winnersville Classic.  Football was the lifeblood of Valdosta.  And not just any football – high school football. 


Valdosta had made its claim as ESPN's Title Town USA because of its - not one - but two storied high school football teams.  The Valdosta Wildcats and the Lowndes (County) Vikings.  And on the day they played each other, it was as if Valdosta became the center of the universe.  

The Wildcats in fact had such a storied tradition that the stadium on the campus of Valdosta State University actually belonged to the high school.  The VSU Blazers, who owned several Division 2 National Titles for college football, actually had to borrow the Wildcat’s stadium to play their games.



The Valdosta Wildcats are said to be the winningest high school football program in America.  From 1913 - 2010 they won six National Championships in football, 23 State Championships, and 40 Regional Championships.  In recent years, the team has not quite been living up to their reputation but their legacy still stands and their following is just as vigorous as ever.  



Football almost seems to be ingrained in the language. Toughness weaves unspoken bonds between hard working men with grit in their guts.  Everyone from factory workers to firemen brag about their hometown heroes: the rotating roster of teenage runningbacks and linebackers.  The tougher the player the better.  



Valdosta sprouted up as a sort of outpost, positioned between larger cities like Atlanta, Tallahassee and Jacksonville.  It's situated perfectly along the railroad, which grew it into a factory town, a wash of lumber and steel.  Hard working men and women planted their feet there and grew their neighborhoods.  



Today Valdosta is deceptively large for being thought of as such a small town.  With a population of 65,000 it is actually the second most populated city in the Tallahassee media market.  And it has grown far beyond just being a platform for factories.  Today it's a very family friendly environment which runs the gamut of professions, from high school educations to doctorates.  

To me the biggest sociological divide in Valdosta is that of city folks and farm folks.   Farm folks are fascinating the way they seem to be entirely unaffected, even willfully naive, to the changing world around them.  They cling onto their down home values and it seems that's all they need.  If you get yourself invited over for dinner it's like taking a trip back in time.  The men sit around the table and discuss business while the woman of the family prepares a home cooked meal using the same recipes past down from her mother.  It's always a full house bustling with visiting family members and more kids than you can count.  

The children come home from school just in time to wash up and take their seats at the small table.  The wife serves up the fried chicken, grits and green beans for the men with a side of milk or water, and then returns to the kitchen to prepare more for the children.  Once the children are served she returns once again to prepare her own.  In these households the woman of the house eats last.  

Once everyone has finished dinner the men retreat to a separate room to discuss more business matters and perhaps smoke a cigar or sip some brandy.  The wife proceeds to clean up the kitchen and the children may help her.  



These are humble homes filled with hardworking people.  They read the bible every night and tuck their kids into bed with a kiss on the forehead.  They may not have lots of money or new cars or big screen TVs.  They may not be rich in the sense of having swollen bank accounts.  But they are certainly rich in family values.  

As a journalist it can be difficult making friends in Valdosta because residents generally fall into one of three categories: college students, military personnel, and southern good ole boys.  Valdosta has no shortage of transplants who come looking for work or school.  The major employers in Valdosta are Moody Air Force Base, South Georgia Medical Center, and Valdosta State University.  

VSU students almost create a separate city of their own, a sort of South Georgia version of Atlanta.  In fact, for all practical purposes they literally do have a separate city.  Most VSU students live in the City of Remerton (pronounced Reem-er-ton) which exists as an island within Valdosta.  The culture in Remerton is unrecognizable to that of the small town suburbs.  

The fried chicken is replaced by Thai wraps and the milk or water is replaced by beer and liquor;  lots of beer and liquor.  "The Remerton Strip" is a stretch of road with about a half a dozen college bars that are packed to the brink every weekend night that school is in session.  The dress code is decidedly causal: t-shirts and jeans.  Anyone wearing a dress or a tie might as well be wearing a sign they're either new here or just visiting.  The only thing more prolific than the fraternity/sorority logos are the teary eyed students praying their way through yet another breathalyzer test.  



When school is not in session the area around the university practically becomes a ghost town.  There is a virtual exodus up I-75 four hours to Atlanta.  If you ask any VSU student where they are from more often than not they will tell you they are from some suburb in North Georgia.  If you press them further, eventually they might admit as to why they couldn't get into the University of Georgia so they found their way to another university where they could use their in-state tuition and scholarships.  But while plenty of VSU students will tell you they never planned to find themselves in South Georgia, many do find themselves staying there for work.  



Then there are the Airmen from Moody Air Force Base.  Moody is a medium-sized base that is said to be one of the most heavily deployed bases in the continental U.S., especially against bases of a much bigger size.  The base brings Airmen from all across the county who make Valdosta their temporary home before shipping their family off once again to another base.   



Valdosta is a city on the rise.  Mayor John Gayle proudly claims it to be the fastest growing city in Georgia.  I've never seen the numbers to back it up, but I believe it's true.  



At the turn of the millennium downtown was a place few people would ever want to go.  It was broken down, hallowed out and overrun with weeds.  Since then city leaders have made great strides in cleaning it up and attracting new businesses there.  Today downtown is a vibrant section of charming Americana, complete with restaurants, monuments and boutiques.  There's even a monthly festival called "First Friday" that treats residents to art shows, street performers and plenty of food and festivities.  



But despite the charm of downtown, the bustling crowds aren't what they could be.  The next frontier for city leaders has become to bridge the gap between downtown and the Remerton area by making the streets more attractive.  



Valdosta is a town still very much in touch with its southern roots.  Parking is a precious commodity around churches on Sundays.  Country music seems to be blaring from every passing truck.  And you'd be hard pressed to find a good river or creek without a father and son casting a fishing line.  

I've learned a great deal in my time in Valdosta.  The warmth of its people has helped me get outside myself and learn to look at the city through the lens of the community.  It's reminded me about the importance of family.  But perhaps most importantly its made me realize the value in spending time with people.  



One day I will leave my post in Valdosta for a new job at a news station in a bigger city.  But no matter where I go, I'll always take a piece of South Georgia with me.  

Greg Gullberg head shot.