Community Gathers Together to Protest Biased Reporting

Some residents of Monroe County are upset with what they see as a pattern of racist and inappropriate news coverage from their local paper. Priscilla Cofield, a Monroe County native, is one of them.  

When Priscilla Cofield’s 11-year-old son ran into her bedroom at 9 a.m. she didn’t know what to expect. He had just lost his father to a hit and run on Memorial Day, two nights before. Both were still reeling from the loss. Her son, devastated, held up his phone.

His cousin had sent him a photo of what had been printed about his father in the local newspaper.

“There was no time for me to try to avoid it or try to hide it from him,” Cofield said.

“Troubled man killed sitting on Hwy. 42” The headline read. It was paired with a mugshot of Tondi from 2016. Cofield said the article also talked about Norsworthy’s past convictions for shoplifting food in 2016 and 2017.

She felt it painted a picture of Norsworthy as a bad person, not a victim. 

She tried to reach out to Will Davis, the author of the piece, several times but her comments on the Monroe County Reporter page were deleted. Her messages to Will Davis on Facebook Messenger were ignored and she was eventually blocked from the page entirely.

Her son, who has anxiety, refused to go inside any store in Monroe County because he did not want to see the photo of his father with the headline proclaiming him a “troubled man” in the newspaper.

“I can’t imagine for my child what that was like,” she said. “If I can prevent one other kid in this county from going through what he went through, then I was successful.”

This story is one of many that Drieka Moore said drew her to starting #ChangingtheNarrative, a movement to remove local reporter Will Davis from his position at the only newspaper in Monroe County.

Davis has worked at the Monroe County Reporter for the past 13 years. He is the editor of the paper as well as a reporter and part-owner. 

Davis declined a request for an interview. 

Born and raised in Monroe County, Moore said she believes that her community deserves to have a newspaper that helps them come together.

She said many in the community also feel that Davis’ reporting is not objective but instead meant to promote specific political beliefs and divisiveness.

Moore recalled how often she used to see articles that she felt were bashing President Obama or other political figures in the paper whenever she would pass it on the shelves.  

Davis’ “ON THE PORCH” opinion column often veered into politics, as with a recent article on the Juliette water crisis, where he compared the push for testing for coal ash contaminants in well water to the “Muslim ban” made by Donald Trump in 2017. The Monroe County Commission recently began a $17 million project to bring municipal water to Juliette. Depending on the outcome of groundwater tests, the commission may attempt to get Georgia Power to cover those costs. 

“Our town has suffered,” Moore said. “Our town has suffered long enough from his bias and racism in the Monroe County Reporter.”

Moore was soon joined by other community members who were upset with what they see as the divisive nature of the Monroe County Reporter. 

Shateari Crowder-Holder, the vice president of #ChangingtheNarrative and a native to the City of Forsyth, said that she worried about how the Monroe County Reporter would worsen already existent race and class-based tensions that she sees in small-town America. 

“Right after the George Floyd thing, things were really tense at that time,” Crowder-Holder said. “Any little thing could set a small town like this off.”

She wanted to help. She wanted to support her community members in whatever way possible. So, when Moore said she was going to hold a peaceful demonstration to allow community members to voice her concerns, Crowder-Holder was all in. 

“Whatever you need me to do. I’m here 100 percent. I’m behind you,” Crowder-Holder said to Moore. 

At the non-violent rally, community members gathered to discuss what was to be done about the Monroe County Reporter. 

“We made sure it was peaceful, we made sure it was productive,” Terrica Zellner the administrative secretary of #ChangingtheNarrative said. 

Zellner is a native to Monroe County and was drawn to the movement after seeing Moore’s Facebook post. She attended the rally because she thought it was important to break the silence surrounding what she believed were inappropriate articles she had seen on the front pages. 

“Silence makes people comfortable and then they keep pushing it,” Zellner said. 

Monroe County School Superintendent Mike Hickman was there, too. Hickman vowed to support the efforts made by community members to remove Will Davis from the Monroe County Reporter.

“This paper has been tearing us down for 13 years,” Hickman said at the rally.

Some members of the Monroe County Board of Education were critical of Hickman at a board meeting following the rally. Those participating in the #ChangingtheNarrative movement were there to support him.

In a pre-written statement given during the meeting, Hickman said that he still believed that he had done the right thing in speaking at the rally and did not regret the decision.

“If it’s wrong you should call it out,” he said to the crowd. “We want to be better, but we’ve got to get this hate out of us.”

Some have defended Davis’ actions in the Monroe County Reporter. 

Greg Head,  a member of the Monroe County Board of Education, read an anonymous letter he had received discussing the issue at a board meeting in July.

“What are we teaching our students about the first amendment?” The letter read, “Are only certain voices allowed to be heard? Is the freedom of the press no longer valid?”

Moore and those participating in #ChangingtheNarrative have already begun to work with the Macon Walmart on Zebulon Road and Navicent Health as well as local stores that sell the Monroe County Reporter to take the newspaper off the shelves. Most stores have been receptive to the movement, removing the paper after meeting with organizers to discuss the issue. 

The group also plans to hold another rally soon, though this has been impacted by the recent rise in COVID-19 cases. They are looking into online options. 

“These are everyday normal people, that work every day 9-5 jobs, that have kids, that are coming together against a tyrant in our community and that is a beautiful thing to me,” Cofield said. 

Moore said that this is only the beginning. The organizers recognized that change does not happen overnight, but said they were in it for the long haul.