Gerber: Free Press page gets new editor

Gerber: Free Press page gets new editor

June 10th, 2012 by Alison Gerber in Opinion Columns

The Free Press editorial page is getting a new face.

It's a face you'll see on Facebook. It's a name that will come across your Twitter feed. It's a person you'll see out in the community - a lot. And it's someone you may already know if you follow Tennessee politics.

Drew Johnson is joining the Times Free Press at the end of June and will assume the responsibilities that Lee Anderson held for decades. He'll write daily editorials on the Free Press page and be a conservative voice on issues affecting Chattanooga area readers.

But Johnson has received explicit instructions for the first week or so that he's here. Don't worry about writing. Get out there on the streets, in the neighborhoods of the Chattanooga area. Go to Chattanooga City Council meetings, Hamilton County Commission meetings. Hang out at Coolidge Park or Nightfall.

Talk to people. Introduce yourself. Get a feel for the area, for what residents think, what they care about, what they're worried about.

Such understanding is key to writing good editorials.

Johnson is new to newspapers, but not new to the worlds of politics or public policy.

After earning a bachelor's degree in political science and economics from Nashville's Belmont University and a master's degree in public policy from Pepperdine University in California, he worked for the National Taxpayers Union outside Washington, D.C. There he tracked the cost of legislation proposed by members of Congress and wrote about topics that included escalating federal spending.

Then he came home to Tennessee to create and serve as president of the state's first free market think tank and watchdog organization, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, which is now known as the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

Most recently, he's served as a senior fellow for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance, where he writes a column about government waste, fraud and abuse of tax dollars for Newsmax, the conservative news organization.

Johnson said his Appalachian roots - he grew up in Johnson City, Tenn. - shaped his belief that people make better decisions about issues that impact their and their families' lives than government ever could.

He believes free market economic principles can result in an improved business climate, greater education opportunities, strengthened property rights and lower taxes.

Johnson steps into a newsroom that is blessed with a luxury few newspapers in America have: two opinion pages each day, with the Free Press representing conservative views and the Times representing liberal views.

The Free Press has a history dating to 1933 and, over the years, its opinion page has carried a reputation as a strong, unwavering conservative voice, advocating freedom, free markets, free enterprise and free trade.

When we went looking for the next Free Press editor, we sought someone who is passionate about their political viewpoints and able to defend their positions eloquently. We wanted someone whose principles are conservative, but who does not simply regurgitate what's being said in the national echo chamber.

We needed someone who believes in the power of an opinion page to educate, entertain and engage. To provoke discussion. And to sometimes outrage.

Johnson meets all those qualifications.

While he takes over a page that bears Anderson's legacy, he won't try to be Anderson, who retired in April after 70 years in the newspaper industry.

The Free Press page, under Johnson, will look different.

You'll see more dueling between the Free Press and Times pages. You'll see a new look on both pages. You'll see more interaction with readers on both pages.

A good opinion page, Johnson says, should be "interesting, insightful, infuriating and honest."

So in the future, look for the Free Press page to enlighten and entertain you; to agree and disagree with you; to energize and enrage you.

If Johnson does all of those, he'll be doing his job.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. Send suggestions to readerfeedback@timesfreepress.com.