by Robin Kemp
With just a few hours left in 2020, COVID-19 vaccine slowly wending its way through the county’s healthcare facilities, and an election season that feels more like a series of hurricanes than a simple civic exercise, we’d like to say good riddance to a dreadful year.
However, this was also the year The Clayton Crescent, born of necessity amid COVID-19 layoffs and dwindling support for local newspapers, stepped up with nothing more than a web template and a very few dollars and did what no other news agency in Clayton County–or metro Atlanta, for that matter–would. We committed ourselves to cover as much of Clayton County and the Southern Crescent as humanly possible, to do so as a nonprofit news agency, and to focus on those subjects and communities long neglected by legacy media companies.
This year, we were often–and continue to be–the only news service breaking stories that impact thousands of Clayton County residents whose voices generally go unheard and ignored:
- We spoke with inmates and former inmates of the Clayton County Jail, who first tipped us off to COVID-19 conditions and allegations of abuse. We followed up when the FBI raided Sheriff Victor Hill’s offices and when inmates filed suit against the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department. We challenged claims that there had been no COVID-19 outbreak, producing evidence from the Clayton County Board of Health that stated otherwise. We continue to receive reports from citizens who have been held in custody that indicate little has changed–in contradiction of official statements.
- We held the City of Forest Park accountable when it directed rank-and- file police officers to remove us–illegally–from two open meetings of the City Council and literally bar us from a third at the direction of Mayor Angelyne Butler and Police Chief Nathaniel Clark. With assistance from the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, the University of Georgia Law First Amendment Clinic, and media attorney S. Derek Bauer, we demanded that the city stop using COVID-19 as a rationale for failing to provide the press and citizens with full access to these meetings. We pointed to other jurisdictions that had figured out how to livestream meetings, enforce mask-wearing and social distancing in chambers, or both. We offered to settle their repeated violations out of court. Ultimately, the council–along with the city’s three appointed boards–agreed to split the cost of installing professional videoconferencing and livestreaming equipment, thereby committing to a new level of transparency and accountability. During what was effectively a ten-month blackout of public oversight, the city has hired and fired multiple high-level officials and staff, bought three luxury SUVs, let numerous capital contracts and a bond issue to finance those projects, installed a 4K video production studio in the Hartsfield Community Center for the mayor’s use, and defied its own COVID-19 masking and social distancing regulations, both in chambers and at numerous city-sponsored events in Starr Park.
- On Election Night, our live-tweeting of the ballot count and a steady stream of GOP poll watchers who packed The Bunker and made unsubstantiated allegations of election fraud drew international attention. We had no idea until Leading Britain’s Conversation, a radio program in London, called to tell us the whole world was watching and asked for an interview. When we checked our Twitter feed, we discovered over 14,000 new followers and a fan club we didn’t know we had. One of those people found our early pre-start-up GoFundMe page, posted it to Twitter, and–as the morning TV news crews were delighted to inform us–poured thousands of dollars into it to help us get started. Since then, we’ve done numerous print, TV, radio, and podcast interviews and had to cut off the GoFundMe before year’s end to stay within a reasonable tax bracket for a nascent nonprofit. We’ve submitted our application for 501(c)(3) status, which we hope will arrive early in 2021. We’ve set up our office in historic downtown Jonesboro. We’ve accepted speaking engagements and have been informed we’re the recipients of a rather nice award we can’t announce yet. We’ve made some amazing friends from around the country and the world, whose generosity for a community they’d never heard of before Election Night offers renewed hope for substantive news coverage and government oversight in a time when these are desperately needed.
- We thank everyone in the community (and that’s the overwhelming majority!) for your kind words, positive feedback, donations, offers to help, story ideas, and moral support. We work for you. We are small, but we are growing, and we are working on plans to broaden our reach within the community, particularly those who continue to be underserved, ignored, passed by, or left out. We are committed to covering relevant, substantive news you can use. We are here for you.
The (Almost) Year in Review
The Clayton Crescent was born In the Time of COVID-19, in April 2020, after The Clayton News and Henry Herald laid off three of its four full-time editorial employees. Therefore, our gallery does not include The Before Time. From Solo’s tentative reopening of his barbershop for limited service in April through the loss of loved ones to COVID-19, a summer of protests, Bostock v. Clayton County, multiple ballot counts, and the National Association of Black Military Women’s wreath-laying ceremony, here’s a look back at the tragedy and triumphs of 2020, never to return but never to be forgotten.
May you and yours, of whatever permutation, combination, or political inclination, stay healthy, happy, warm, fed, and loved in 2021.
See y’all tomorrow.