So happy to be back home at paper, in Atmore

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It’s been nearly three years and four months to the day since I sat down, in this very office, and I wrote my “goodbye” column to the residents of Atmore after serving as news editor of The Atmore Advance for two great years.

All that time later, I’m thrilled to be writing a “hello again” column to all of you after accepting the position of publisher here at The Advance.

I grew up in Atmore and my first job at a newspaper was working right here at The Advance while I was still in high school. I typed a lot of obituaries and got a lot of coffee for people, but I also learned a lot about the job and even got to write a story or two. Years later, while taking a break from college, I again found myself working here at the paper – this time as a staff writer. And, as I mentioned before, I later had the privilege of bringing my wife and daughter to Atmore while I served here as the paper’s news editor. So, needless to say, both the City of Atmore and The Advance hold special places in my heart.

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In the years since my family and I left Atmore, I have had the wonderful opportunities to work for a daily newspaper in Andalusia, as well as to serve as publisher for a paper in Louisiana. Both experiences were different and both allowed me to really grow in a variety of ways. So, when my wife, Stephanie, was offered a great new job back here in Alabama, it was bittersweet. Of course I was thrilled for her new opportunity and Heaven knows she deserved it after being dragged all over the South by me for so many years. But, I also knew I would miss the job I truly love – working in community newspapers. We arrived home in Atmore this summer and since I didn’t yet have a job, I stayed home with the kids, a challenge worthy of its own column. It wasn’t an easy transition to make, going from running a newspaper to being completely separated from the business. There were several times over the last six-or-so months when I would hear a siren and instinctively stop or reach for my phone, before realizing that wasn’t my job anymore. So, when I was approached about coming back to work for The Advance, I couldn’t say, “yes” quickly enough.

But, it wasn’t just the prospect of working for a newspaper again that excited me; it was working for this newspaper in this town. I know a lot can change in three years, but a lot also stays the same. I have already seen so many familiar faces, or picked up the phone to a voice I know. The people of Atmore have, time and again, welcomed my family and me back home with open arms, no matter how long we’ve been gone. So much so that when my wife, who grew up near Tuscaloosa, says “home,” I know she’s actually referring to Atmore.

And this time we’ve arrived back home with a first-time Atmore resident, our 3-year-old son, Colin. We couldn’t be more thrilled to be given the chance to raise Sawyer and him in such a wonderful community.

And not only am I looking forward to serving such wonderful folks as those in the Atmore area, I’m also very blessed to be walking into an office full of co-workers I can honestly call friends.

Allison Brown is the heartbeat of this paper. We’d fall apart without her. Don’t believe me? Come visit us while she and her family are on one of their infamous Disney vacations. The rest of us in the office aren’t fond of Orlando. The work she does here keeps us all sane.

Andrew Garner and I spent a year working side-by-side at the Andalusia Star-News. I mean that literally. Our desks were only separated by a few feet. Following The Advance online from Louisiana and through our own subscription over the summer, I’ve remarked to Stephanie time and again how great of a job he’s doing here as editor. His work ethic and integrity are unmatched.

And, of course, Walt Butler keeps us in business as our ad representative and his wit and humor keep us in good spirits around the office. I’ve worked with Walt in newspapers before and couldn’t wait to get back and catch up with him. So, whether it’s being home in Atmore or getting to come back to work here at The Advance, in both instances, it has truly been a homecoming for me. I thank you all for making this community what it is and I look forward to working with you as we move forward.

Blake Bell is the publisher of The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at