The 64th annual Robbins Farmers Day concluded yesterday with its customary parades, performances and plenty of down-home eats.
But unfortunately this year, there was also a bit of ill, unsettled talk in the background that The Pilot unintentionally engendered.
Robbins takes a great deal of pride in the annual celebration of its heritage and people, and rightly so. Each year, the two-day event brings upward of 30,000 people to this northern Moore town that tops out at around 1,100 full-time residents.
Robbins is classic small-town North Carolina, a community rich in a heritage that includes farming, textiles and hard work for everything it has achieved. Each year, ahead of the festival, The Pilot produces a special section — this year’s was 32 pages — that previews the entertainment and the schedule of events, and chronicles the long history of the town and the event.
In this year’s special section, we included some additional features, such as notable Robbins natives like Space Shuttle astronaut Charles Brady Jr., former U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards, and professional football player Cam Thomas.
We highlighted points of interest like Bear Creek and the eternally popular Carolina Fried Chicken. We wrote of the long history of the Hussey men as wagon masters, and interviewed the town’s Board of Commissioners and manager about what they love about Farmers Day.
All good stuff — and all lost to many Robbins lovers when they turned to pages 26 and 27 and saw the photography spread headlined “A Look at the Landscape.” The two pages featured 11 pictures shot by staff photographer Ted Fitzgerald of downtown Robbins and the surrounding landscape in and outside of town.
Journalistically, the photos were beautiful. Ted has more than 40 years experience as a professional newspaper photographer. But two of the 11 photos didn’t sit well with Robbins folks, and they’ve been emailing, texting and calling me and Publisher David Woronoff all this past week to share their views.
One of the pictures features several piles of tires stacked high beside an old truck by a service station. A second picture features the front end of a rusted out truck with a similarly conditioned commode on top. This latter picture would seem to represent someone’s notion of rural art, which is why Ted snapped the photo.
Art is in the eye of the beholder, however, and few Robbins beholders saw the art in these two pictures — and they looked right past everything else in the 32-page special section celebrating their town.
As editor of this paper, I am responsible for all the stories and photos that go in it. So I take this moment to apologize to Robbins and its residents for not seeing these photos as they clearly saw them. Folks believed The Pilot was intentionally trying to stigmatize the town and poke fun at its rural heritage.
There is no way in the world any of us would dedicate all the time and resources and labor to produce this section and then purposefully belittle the subject of all that effort. We are guilty of being human and careless in our sensitivity, but we are not guilty of premeditated meanness.
Those who know us personally or professionally know what The Pilot has meant to Moore County for 99 years. No other information source over those years has covered Robbins — or any other local community — the way The Pilot has.
I can only speak for the last seven of those 99 years, but I know of the countless stories and photos we’ve run in that time of past Farmers Days; the arc of the town’s economic fortunes; the progress at recovering from storms over the last couple of years; new ideas and development like the town green space and the Northern Moore Family Resource Center’s HOPE Academy.
Editorially, we have advocated for issues that would improve the fortunes of Robbins and all of northern Moore. When the town landed the new Minhas furniture plant a couple years ago, we wrote, “While the rest of the state loses its mind chasing a losing proposition in an Amazon headquarters, Robbins has rolled up its sleeves and helped itself to some economic development of its own.”
We have supported the expansion of North Moore High School, growth of HOPE Academy and sided with Robbins in the town’s seemingly endless fights with the state to get badly needed funds for infrastructure improvements.
The Pilot has — and will continue to have — a strong record of covering Robbins and all of Moore County’s communities. Occasionally we hold up a mirror that folks don’t appreciate. And we occasionally don’t take the time to think through how we’re holding that mirror, what we’re showing and why we’re showing it.
So to all my Robbins friends, and those who think they’ve lost a friend, I apologize for being the source of some bitterness this past week. I have heard your concerns, all of which will go toward making The Pilot even better as we head into our 100th year of supporting Moore County.
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or firstname.lastname@example.org.