::: Photo By SeQuoya Robinson :::
Robin Kemp slumped in a chair at the Fig Tree Café on a rainy afternoon, an untouched latte getting cool on the table.
“I’m overworked and I’m tired,” she said. “I don’t take the time to shower sometimes. I’ve got to learn to pace myself.”
As the reporter/editor/photographer/videographer/video editor/web master/fundraiser for the three-year old digital newspaper, Kemp is committed to covering the “news desert” that she calls Clayton County, where six cities exist within a sizable unincorporated area governed by a county commission that heads a large number of agencies whose policies affect citizens on a daily basis.
Many news deserts have swept into being across the country as print newspapers, especially in small communities, have shrunk or gone out of business. News deserts get little attention from the larger news organizations, such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta TV stations, and rarely have more than one reporter covering the local angles.
“Corporate raiders come in and strip out the assets and lay off the newsroom. It becomes a zombie paper,” she said of the struggling small community newspapers. “No matter what the medium is, there is always going to be a need for people who get the unvarnished truth down for the record.”
Kemp bemoans the death of these local newspapers but flatly refuses for her publication to be called “the future of local journalism.” She believes there may be a more sinister future for local news as the media giants continue to devour smaller publications and ignore local issues.
“We are the present of local news,” she said, pointing to her on-line newspaper as one of around 500 local newspapers in the nation-wide Institute for Non-Profit News. Yet, as the revenue streams dry up, she believes even these may be in danger of folding. She said that in Cuba, with its tightly restricted media, western news and programs not cleared by the state are passed around surreptitiously with a flash drive that is called “El Paquete.”
“Honestly, looking at the political situation in the United States and the way things seem to be heading, I wouldn’t be surprised if get El Paquetes here, and that is not a good thing.”
Journalism is baked into her DNA. Her father, Jim Kemp, was a news man in New Orleans, where Kemp was born on Mardi Gras. Rather than comic books, the young Kemp devoured the Columbia Journalism Review. Her father later joined CNN where he was senior assignment editor for over two decades at the national desk.
In New Orleans, Kemp worked for the alternative weekly Gambit, covering everything from City Hall to historic preservation. In the first of her many honors, she was presented with the Brown Pelican award for covering coastal erosion in Louisiana. Little did she suspect that some three decades later the lessons learned from this experience would be put to use at her own digital newspaper.
She eventually wound up at CNN herself for seven years. While there she founded TurnOut, the LGBTQ group of Turner Broadcasting employees, that advocated for health benefits coverage for non-traditional partners. She was a producer of the in-house diversity training video called Through the Lens, Kemp quit to pursue poetry.
After obtaining a degree in English with a concentration in creative writing from Georgia State, and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of New Orleans, Kemp was named the “Best Poet in New Orleans,” with poems printed in several magazines and anthologies. She published a book of poetry, This Pagan Heaven.
But Kemp soon discovered that poetry pays even less than journalism. Her return to journalism came when the Clayton News Daily offered her the position of covering Clayton and Henry counties, by herself. The pandemic changed that.
When she was let go from the Clayton News Daily via phone call in April 2020, Kemp immediately went to her home office and began building the website that would become Claytoncrescent.org.
“What is lost is real coverage of what is happening in this community,” she said of the traditional paper’s decision to cut their reporting staff. “I didn’t want that to happen. Clayton County is uniquely situated in the Atlanta metro area. It is a huge economic engine with all the warehouses and the airport.”
Her first journalistic success came in the fall of 2020 that changed the way the city of Forest Park was holding its virtual Mayor and City Council meetings. Along with the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Georgia, Kemp challenged the city’s exclusion of her attending the meetings in person without providing adequate remote access as mandated by the state’s sunshine laws. The city relented and improved its live streaming of its meetings.
Kemp and her little digital paper garnered huge national and international news with her coverage of the 2020 election results. Her curiosity had led her to cover the actual process of voting, which in her long career she had never done, in Clayton County. Her live Tweets about the election drew interest from many national news organizations as well as international outlets.
“I went to lunch with a Norwegian crew and we had a really nice time,” she said.
But as the day wore on, she found the ballot area was getting crazier and crazier. “There were platoons of people who came in who had been issued statewide credentials. They were young people from one particular party. They seemed to be directed by some older people. One man said he had witnessed some ballot mingling. When I talked with him it was obvious that he didn’t know what ballot commingling was.”
The coverage blew up her donations over the next few days, a welcome relief after paying for everything “literally out of my back pocket.” For her efforts, Kemp received the 2021 Media Changemaker Award from the Mercer University Center for Sustainable Journalism.
The mission of the Clayton Crescent is, according to Kemp, to cover issues of broad interest that will allow citizens to become participants in their local government’s decision-making process rather than just being passive spectators. The way to do this, she said, is to cover the news from the average person’s perspective, no matter what their political leanings or their economic status.
“I have Democrats who are mad at me. I have Republicans who are mad at me. I have Libertarians who are mad at me. I have Socialists who are mad at me. All of them are mad at me because I don’t say what they want me to say,” she said, sipping the last of her latte. “We are going to be as apolitical as possible.”