For the first time since 2006, I didn’t make it to Birmingham, Alabama in the spring for the Timothy Sumner Robinson Forum at Samford University in honor of my late husband, a pioneering legal journalist. There were delays this time in scheduling the busy speaker, Brian Lyman, a political reporter for the Montgomery Advertiser. He was tentatively scheduled to appear in March, but local political events kept interfering – and even the April 10th appearance was cancelled that morning when the Alabama Governor suddenly resigned in a major scandal.
In the end, I was grateful that Samford’s Journalism and Mass Communications department was able to set up a live electronic feed when the Forum was finally rescheduled to May 1st and I got to be a faraway participant.* Lyman had a positive message for Samford’s journalism students – arguing that despite the struggles, local newspapers like the Montgomery Advertiser were evolving in exciting times. He explained that the declining newspaper revenue that resulted in fewer editors monitoring a reporter’s copy also could have a positive result: a new freedom to pursue the kind of human stories first crafted by heavyweights like Jimmy Breslin back in the 60s. He concluded that today’s reporters must be story tellers – “we must show how facts are experiences.” Lyman further said that political journalism focuses on power – and stories about the use and abuse of power are important and need to be covered, summing it up with the challenge that “Reporters must be the bridge between the council chamber and the living room.”
In a time of change and increasing public distrust of the media, it was refreshing to hear a reporter champion the challenges today, and glorify the local beat . My late husband started on local beats in Alabama during a time of great change in the 60s and was always just as proud of those years as his later part in pioneering legal journalism on a national scale. I was thankful for this affirmation of the power of local news. And this fall I plan to visit Tim’s amazing family in Birmingham – and also look forward to meeting the latest students to benefit from the Robinson Forum , as well as from the scholarship program and an internship at the Washington Post. Go Samford!
*My thanks to Bernie Ankney, Chair, Journalism and Mass Communications Dept. and Jackie Long, Recruitment and Alumni Affairs Officer for coordinating the electronic feed – and to my brother in law Michael Robinson and his wife Carolyn, who kept me informed on all the changes and represented the family in person this year.