June 14, 2015
Welcome to the 15th Annual Johnny Appleseed, Charles Kuralt, James Taylor, Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Robert Frost, Scott Peck, Woody Guthrie, William Least Heat Moon, ‘Possum-Dodgin’, Chigger-Slappin’ Summer Community Journalism … ROADSHOW!
When we launched the Roadshow 15 summers ago, I wanted to keep the project as informal and as unstuffy as possible — and so, in keeping with the playful spirit of summertime, we named the first Roadshow in honor of Johnny Appleseed, that 19th century semi-mythical wandering nurseryman who hiked the backroads planting apple trees wherever he went.
Then in 2002, the second year, I decided I’d have to add another new well-known figure whose persona related to that certain “roady-ness,” if you will. So, being a native Tar Heel, our own Charles Kuralt (CBS legend from the “On the Road” series) was the natural pick.
Subsequently, each year a new road-worthy literary or journalism figure was added to the ever-lengthening Roadshow handle.
Over time list of intrepid road warriors grew to include: James Taylor, (“Walkin’ Down a Country Road”); Jack Kerouac, (“On the Road”); Willie Nelson, (“On the Road Again); Johnny Cash, (“I’ve Been Everywhere, Man”); John Steinbeck, (“Travels with Charlie”); Robert Frost, (The Road Not Taken”); M. Scott Peck, (“The Road Less Traveled”); Woody Guthrie, (“Goin’ Down this Road Feelin’ Bad”); and William Least Heat Moon (“Blue Highways”).
Additional modifiers were offered up by friends and colleagues: “Chigger-Slappin’” (from Forest City Town Planner Danielle Withrow); and “’Possum Dodgin’” (from Hoke County News-Journal Publisher Robert “Bubba” Dickson).
Lest anyone think I am taking credit for the journalism roadshow concept, we owe our origin to former Kansas State University Professor (and classic pink ‘50s Nash Neapolitan aficionado) John Neibergall, who, in the late ‘80s, along with a stalwart band of fellow professors, started a state-wide community journalism extension program called the “Circuit-Riders,” harkening back to the 19th century frontier days of the horseback-riding preachers who traveled the backroads from one little rural church parish to another.
Though the KSU effort did not last, the KSU Circuit Riders inspired me to carry on their legacy at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill, where in June 2001, we launched the Carolina Community Media Project — with the Roadshow being its signature initiative.
From the outset, I wanted the Roadshow to embrace the mantra of legendary former UNC President Edward Kidder Graham, whose statewide vision was embodied in his statement that the borders of the UNC campus should be co-terminus with those of the state.
In other words, not just from Franklin Street to the Dean Dome, but from Murphy to Manteo.
My very first Roadshow visit was to the Blue Ridge mountain town of Spruce Pine and the Mitchell News-Journal, fully 200 miles and four hours due west of Chapel Hill. They had a UNC intern whose name I forget but whose face I cannot: he was a dead ringer for Opie from the “Andy Griffin Show.” And the paper was led by an earnest young man named Johnny Whitfield — if memory serves, in his first posting as an editor.
How fitting then, that 15 years later, we kick off this summer’s Roadshow with another visit to Johnny Whitfield. Here are some photos from that workshop in Zebulon on May 21.