My career in photography started at the Neighbor Newspapers, suburban weekly newspapers owned by the  Marietta Daily Journal (MDJ). I was hired as a writer. The editor never read a word I wrote before hiring me.

After a year of writing stories about local school board meetings, before which the editor of the competing newspaper (not coincidentally a co-founder of The Dew!) and I would drink a bottle of plum wine, I decided to switch to photography. The requirements were as rigorous as those for a writer.

The ultimate goal of a photographer for the Neighbor papers was to rise to the position of staff photographer for the flagship paper. Fortunately, there were often openings because the paper’s owner hated photographers and fired them on a regular basis.

cheerleader3Before long I found myself at the MDJ under the tutelage of a chief photographer who, true to form, was soon fired. Thus I quickly became a co-chief photographer with my fellow staffer, neither of us wanting to be the sole chief due to the eminent demise of those in that position.

A few months later, my co-chief was fired. He was that good.

Another photographer, fired just before we came on board, took pictures of the publisher as he was being fired. He had a party with the photos under which he had captions: “This hurts me more than it hurts you,” and “Is that your film, or my film you’re using!”

A sports writer once wrote a column. Each paragraph started with a word where the capital, indented first letters spelled, when going down the page, the publisher’s name and mentioned he was the son of a particular gender of dog….not male. The publisher was that beloved. The sports writer was fired.

I was never fired, which to those that know the paper, is a blot on my journalism career.

Photos: the publisher loved photographs of children because parents and assorted relatives would buy lots of copies, increasing circulation. Top: little ballerina; below: cheerleader making faces on team photo day.

Billy Howard

Billy Howard

Billy Howard is a commercial and documentary photographer with an emphasis on education and global health.

  1. I’d add a really hilarious comment, but there’s no telling who would see it!

  2. Hi Billy — I worked for the same conglomerate…great memories of shared misery! Thanks for the great article!

  3. I worked there too, and to my everlasting shame, was also not fired. I always wondered if the story about the sportswriter was true and wished I had been clever and daring enough to do something like that. All I ever did was change international weather forecasts to see if anyone would notice.

  4. Dagnabit! I wish I’d known that it was an *badge of honor* to be fired! I left the MDJ/NNI about two steps ahead of a pink slip. That explains my 25-year slide down the slippery slope of flacking. But I’ve found my way again. Anyone need a freelance writer?

    And, Billy, I was honored to know you and Curtis Compton while I was serving time there. Two of the most talented photogs I know. Another is Ms. Patillo, who showed great promise even in high school… in the Rockdale County of the early ’80s!

  5. Ah, the Brumby empire…

    I was the Cherokee Tribune photog. I will never forget when I met with the HR lady on my first day: I was told I’d get a week off after I’d been there a year, and would get an extra week of vacation after working there 10 years.

    I left after 11 months.

    I will also never forget Brumby coaching me on how to stage photographs. That was shortly before I left.

  6. Billy…i too have the blot of never being fired although I came close my last few weeks. I started on the southside and was told I was the first one from that side hired at the MDJ. I thought I was going to set a record for how long I was there. I wish I could say the first thing I was told after being hired but I would probably be sued.
    Bita…i had no idea you worked in Cherokee!

  7. Billy, You told me everyone who was anyone had been fired by the evil (un-named) I was and loved every second of covering the World Series later in the week for the AP. As did Barry S who still worked for the MDJ and thought it a bit hilarious that I would be fired from a Neighbor paper, only to turn up with steller press credentials less than 3 days later. He also thought it was pretty funny when I covered Clinton 2 weeks later and realized that my info and fingerprints had been submitted 6-8 weeks earlier to clear security– PRE-Fireing.

  8. Great memoir, Billy. I have the huge honor of having been fired as business editor of the MDJ by The Big Popesnose himself on the grounds that I was generating business news and thereby offending his golf buddies.

  9. Terri Evans

    Following the Brumby-style of circulation building, perhaps Billy should photograph lots of children for the Dew??? My favorite line in this piece: “He was that good.”

  10. Amazingly, after all of these years & personnel have passed, the experience is ultimately the same for everyone. Hilarious commentary; thanks!

  11. Fun trip down Memory Lane! Hello to all my old MDJ buddies — no matter what happens, we’ll always have Otis.

  12. Dang, I didn’t get fired from the Neighbor, so I guess you know what that means.

    I think there are some madly … exaggerated … stories about me still being told around the South Metro, courtesy of one R. Richardson, though. Terrible place to work, and yet I have some of the best memories ever from that time. (What’s up, RJ and H-man!)

    Great photos, Billy!

  13. Billy:

    Since you and I served the same master during my brief 12 months as a sports writer at the MDJ back before we both started to shave, who could forget The Publisher’s powerful and inspiring sermon to the sports staff the week before high school football began. Poised behind his expansive pecan publisher’s desk, Mr. Publisher would rant about teamwork, rave about dedication and finish with perhaps his most crucial piece of mentoring, “Remember people no pictures of colored folk on the front page of the section!” Ah, inspiring words from a rockin’ mogul.

  14. Does anybody else remember the “double where”? Or when he ranted, “Don’t worry about him. He works for IBM and that stands for I’ve been transferred!”

    I did not get fired as business editor as my two predecessors did, and, even better, I did not die like the one before that.

  15. dammit, if this one doesn’t get a response from david secrest, then there will have to be an intervention. we’ll break into his house – and billy, you can shoot pictures while we put a mirror under his nose.

  16. Ahhh…The memory of the big OB is revived once again. I made it as a shooter in the DeKalb office for just under 10 years…yikes!! Never fired- which I now realize means I was more unworthy than OB told me I was. I find my travels to Haiti are far less treacherous than being called into a meeting with the ole man. BTW, anyone remember who ran that photo of the church upside down in the MDJ? Oh, and to answer the question regarding the sportswriter and his column-Billy showed me that clip and may still have a copy framed on his bedside table. Sort of like some folks keep inspirational quotes for the day nearby-Billy has “the column”.

  17. Ooops! Like Leslie Claire, (with whom I worked at The Henry Neighbor) I was never fired either. I worked as staff photographer at the Henry Neighbor office for just shy of 11 months (I was known as “Henry in Henry.”) I was later promoted to chief photographer of the South Metro Division, where I spent the remainder of my total 3 1/2 years at Neighbor.

    I have overwhelmingly good memories of my time there. I met many wonderful folks who I still consider friends. Unlike many others, have to confess that it was never MY ultimate goal to shoot for the MDJ itself – for many wonderful reasons which I won’t list.

    As a photog in South Metro, I never had to deal with any of the “powers that be” (or were) in Marietta. I won’t call names, but I can’t even remember meeting any of the more vexing ones (lucky me, I guess!) We had an amazing amount of autonomy in South Metro; those of us who were photographers there seemed to have greater autonomy still. Unlike editors and writers, we South Metro photogs didn’t have to deal with Marietta and its “personalities” every week! Perhaps that contributed to making the job even more enjoyable!!

  18. You forgot to mention the wonderful $10 gift certificate for Christmas “bonus”! I remember being told to buy a turkey! I knew where I wanted to shove that turkey so I immediately headed to the grocery store, that supplied the “bonus” as a swap for an ad, to get a carton of cigarettes!

  19. MB – the $10 certificate was in line with the salaries we garnered at the Fairground prison. ;-)

  20. Hmmm. When I was there we got a Kroger gift certificate that paid for an entire turkey dinner. I remember it fondly because I threw an orphans dinner one Thanksgiving, and all of the guests were Neighborettes and our friends. We pooled our certificates and had a feast!

    And Steve, I can’t believe you and Billy were in the actual meeting that was so legendary.

    Does anyone know what became of Bobby Nesbitt? He saved my bacon more than once when He Who Must Not Be Named had one of his fits. Bobby was one of the best teachers I ever had and I’ve always hated that I lost touch with him after he retired.

  21. Our “bonus” was from Winn-Dixie. Are there any Winn-Dixie”s left? I know the one in Americus blew away a couple of years ago in the tornado! I saw Bobby a couple of years ago at a mini reunion. He looked the same. Maybe Susan Miles can tell where the Bob-ster is! I did forget to mention that I was called into the “mans” office and told to fix his camera. After looking at it I flipped the batteries around and “fixed” it!

  22. I was ordered to resign after four explosive months at the MDJ — but I refused. I knew if he fired me, I would be eligible for unemployment. He played right into my hands. Two weeks later, I was hired by the Bigger Paper to the South and managed to go 20 years there without being fired. Perhaps they lacked the talent to recognize incompetence.

  23. Myra Blackmon

    Sometimes I feel downright left out! My only newspaper experience was with the News-Reporter in Washington, Ga, where Smythe Newsome kept urging me to write and then published what I wrote!
    But the Big Man was legendary around the Grady College at UGA. May be why I majored in PR…..

    Thanks, Billy, for a great story!

  24. My “turkey certificate” always was spent on alcohol. “-)
    Hey, Henry in Henry…if I am correct you replaced me in South Fulton when I went to Marietta.

  25. Lots more fun as a memory than when I was there. Good to see old friends names popping up here. Pat Darcy and I would pool our ‘bonus” and buy a case of beer, and for a change, not Natural Light. I was never fired either, guess I should have tried harder. Did get cussed for spending $5 for parking at a Braves game. Anybody else have to cover the Brumby summer camp his daughters ran?

  26. Tami – my $25 Winn Dixie gift certificate was also spent on alcohol. And as measly a bonus as that may have been, at least they gave a holiday bonus. Haven’t had one since, if you know what I mean.
    And I have to say of our small Cherokee staff: I had a blast with them. We were all really young and had a lot of fun. It was pretty much an extension of college.

  27. Billy, I — your archenemy and rival at the Fayette County school board meetings — feel your pain.

    Little I have done in the 30 years since Otis fired me from MDJ has inspired the pride I felt the morning I left , when I at least escaped with my sense of honor. The memory, even now, sends chills down my spine.

    It, in it’s own way, was far more fulfilling than being fired (albeit briefly) by the AJC.

  28. Okay, all of these stories spur me to shamelessly plug the Neighbor Newspapers/MDJ Survivor Group on Facebook:

    There are other former MDJ slaves and NNI survivor groups, but this one is dedicated to a gathering – like the one after an Atlanta Press Club meeting years ago – where glasses were raised and stories were told about our time there and experiences with the Owner himself.

  29. Several of us had an MDJ reunion at least five years ago at Olive Garden in May-retta, and Bobby was there. He saved my sanity many times, too, and I’d work with him anytime. I can’t believe that Kathy Trocheck (aka Mary Kay Andrews) hasn’t commented yet. I’ll just say that I haven’t taken a valium since I changed jobs 23 years ago. Some of my coworkers wonder why some execs don’t get on my nerves, and I just laugh and say, “If you only knew what I know.”

  30. I saw Trocheck at the ‘Long Gone’ screening and Paul Hemphill tribute at Manuel’s last night. I’ll forward the link to her.

  31. Mary Kay Andrews

    I worked for OB for 20 of the longest months of my life–from 1977-1979, starting at the South Cobb Neighbor and ending up at “the bigs”or the MDJ. I covered Marietta City Council and cops–which meant that many weeks I started work at 7am and got done filing a city council story at 11pm–and was then told by the city editor that nobody, but nobody, got to put in for overtime–or comp time. I remember going into the ad office to beg for reporters notebooks. I remember being fondled by a certain ad exec, who was infamous for fondling young women, and being powerless to do anything about it. I remember OB calling me into his office and screaming at me ’til I was in tears. I remember just the mention of OB’s name gave me hives. Hell, it still gives me hives. And I remember going to lunch with my fellow powerless reporters, and plotting our vengeance…we would hire a hitman to whack OB. Except that all together we didn’t have enuf money to hire a good ass-whuppin’. So instead, I plotted a mystery, which didn’t sell. And then I wrote another one, which did. And that was my ticket out of newspapers. Except OB still gives me hives, 30 years later.

  32. What memories. Years ago I worked for three years at the Roswell-Alpharetta neighbor with the famous and infamous Deb Smith. I had the nerve to turn down an invitation to work at the MDJ during that time because I feared seeing the big man every day. It was the worst time of my professional life, but my coworkers were some of the best people I’ve ever met — a country singer, the mother of a stripper at the Cheetah, a writer of romance novels, and on and on. We would drink every Thursday night after the paper came out and laugh heartily about all the errors. I particularly remember the time that the paste-up crew switched the captions on two photos — the new garden club officers were featured with a caption intended for the Royal Lipizzaner stallions. And the stallions, of course, were (left to right) the fine ladies of the Alpharetta Garden Club. It was too good not to be done on purpose!

  33. Billy Howard

    As I recall Bert, you were fired and quit simultaneously, which may have happened more than once at that esteemed institution where Otis put the steam into esteem. Because of your eloquence as a writer even then, I memorized your resignation letter: “Dear Mr. Brumby Jr.,” you said, underlining “Jr.” several times, “I quit, you unethical…..and then you mentioned the male offspring of that particular gender of dog previously noted in the story. Signing off, I believe, with “Bert Roughton III,” underlining the 3rd several times. Not a wasted word or underline.

  34. Billy, you’ve definitely struck a nerve with this piece! I’ve enjoyed the comments as much as the essay itself. Let me also say I am very very glad you chose photography over writing as you are one of the best!

  35. I’m in the club who WAS fired from the AJC. Yea! I demonstrated how impossible it was to load film
    on the bent reels and asked for money to buy new ones…I think that was the final straw!

  36. Isn’t it a little unfair to pile on these little metro area papers as the sole practitioners of farcically incompetent management? I’ve got a laugher for y’all: a paper that let’s go a third of the staff, signals its newshole reductions to readers during redesigns “with readers in mind” and then tells everyone they’re charging more for it. Bwwahh-ha-ha! …Memories…

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