I had to travel halfway around the world to get to know better someone from just down the road.

Fellow American and newspaperman Bill Horner of Sanford, North Carolina, USA, had been recruited to come to China with me last week to lecture on the growth of community journalism.

Bill Horner III talks to Chinese journalists in Shanghai, while wife Lee Ann looks on. (Jock Lauterer photo)
Bill Horner III talks to Chinese journalists in Shanghai, while wife Lee Ann looks on. (Jock Lauterer photo)

It’s a topic he knows well. He’s the third-generation publisher of a “relentlessly local” and highly successful, money-making, award-winning daily newspaper in my home state. The Sanford Herald was founded in 1930 by his grandfather, Bill Horner Sr., the man Bill III idolizes and models after.

I thought I knew my neighbor pretty well. But it wasn’t until we got to Shanghai and I heard him speak that I realIzed the impact the newspaper and his grandfather had on him — and why China was so important to him.

“My grandfather traveled to over 100 countries,” Bill told the gathering over 100 local civic and governmental leaders at Shanghai University last week, “And he always said that China was his favorite country.”

Bill, along with wife Lee Ann, team-taught with me and Associate Professor Chen Kai of Beijing’s Communication University of China at a workshop on community journalism co-sponsored by the university and the Xinmin Evening News. When asked by one of the attendees at the workshop what was his favorite thing about China, Bill replied quickly, “the PEOPLE!”

And that made me think. Yes! The people of Shanghai. What an amazing resource. And it took my neighbor, Bill, to call my attention to that fact.

After one workshop, a young reporter thanked us, saying that before the conference he and his co-workers felt like they were “stumbling around in the dark” and that the workshop had been like a “bolt of lightning” to show them the way.

I’m happy to have been a small part of that light. And proud to be a better friend to my old friend Bill, who came to China to better know his long-dead and dearly beloved grandfather and namesake, and thus be closer to the man who was his mentor and role model.

Reflecting on his trip, Bill called it “a once in a lifetime experience.” And then upon thinking a second, he exclaimed, “No! A once in a LIFETIME experience!”

Thank you, Shanghai, for bringing me another friend.

The Community Journalism Roadshow goes to Shanghai: me and Bill Horner III flank the convention banner. (Photo by Lee Ann Horner)
The Community Journalism Roadshow goes to Shanghai: me and Bill Horner III flank the convention banner. (Photo by Lee Ann Horner)
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