Defining Opelika

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By Cliff McCollum
For the Opelika Observer

Has the Opelika Observer really been around for a decade now? It doesn’t seem possible, but here we are.
For six of those years, I was blessed to serve in a variety of roles at the paper, from stringer to columnist to news editor – and I loved each and every minute of it.
Apparently, because of that tenure, I’m allowed a column in this week’s anniversary edition, so, if you will, dear readers, indulge me a line or two.
The Observer’s greatest strength has always been right there on the front page for you – it’s a paper “for local people, by local people.”
If you want to know what’s going on around this city or Lee County, it’s going to be right here between these pages. It’s not national news or AP wire stories from who knows where – it’s stories and profiles about folks right here at home written and photographed by your friends and neighbors.
It’s how the Bulldogs did last Friday night.
It’s the latest new store or expansion coming to downtown Opelika.
It’s a review of the goings-on from a city council meeting or the county commission.
It’s a Robert Noles photo, a D. Mark Mitchell sports blurb or an Ann Cipperly recipe profile.
It’s Opelika – always has been and always will be.
This paper was born from a desire to cover our area the way it should be covered, to not have the important things for our community’s paper be decided on by corporate bigwigs who’ve never even been to our city.
Hard-hitting stories and feel-good features both carry equal weight here – it’s just about making sure you, the readers, are informed about everything going on here.
Over the years, many folks have come and gone from this wonderful paper to go on to new places and newer things, myself included.
I credit my time at the Observer with immersing me in how to be a community journalist – how to cover meetings, investigative stories, features, major events and everything in between. The Observer always gives a great crash course in how to be a one-man show when it comes to coverage.
And the results speak for themselves – the solid base I got here at the Observer led me to where I am now, a managing editor of four weekly newspapers down here in Baldwin County and a recipient of 14 first place Alabama Press Association awards.
If you love this community, continue to support this paper. It’s important for communities like Opelika to have a resource like this, a voice that will always be there to spur, to question, to challenge, to enjoy and to love our Opelika.
Some things just define Opelika, like the railroad track downtown or a Mrs. Story’s footlong chili dog.
I submit to you, dear readers, that this paper should also be one of those things – a source of pride for all our residents who live and thrive in this place we call home.
Congratulations to the Observer for ten amazing years – and here’s to many, many more.
Cliff McCollum is an Opelika native and Observer alumnus. He is now a resident of Fairhope and managing editor of Gulf Coast Media’s four weekly newspapers in Baldwin County.

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