Chuck Williams: The questions on everyone’s mind

chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.comMay 5, 2014 

It may be the best journalism assignment I have ever had.

For the past two months, I have been doing a series of long-form interviews with CEOs, newsmakers, community leaders and top politicians.

When I say long, I mean it. These interviews have run in a question-and-answer format that is normally five or six times longer than the average news story.

They are a combination of people who hold power in the community and those near the end of their careers. I get to ask them about their jobs, their legacy and our community.

I have had readers tell me that they are a peek behind the curtain that is Columbus.

I got to ask Aflac Chairman and CEO Dan Amos if it was a retirement interview. In no uncertain terms, he told me it wasn’t.

I got to ask Dr. Robert Wright, a black Republican in the early 1970s, about race relations and crime.

I got to ask prominent trial lawyer Jim Butler a boatload of questions about his cases against General Motors. Then I sat there kind of dumbfounded when he told me he owned and drove a GMC truck.

I would have never guessed that, but his work over more than three decades made that truck safer.

Last week, I asked District Attorney Julia Slater a lot of questions about a lot of topics. I asked her about her relationship with her former boss, Mark Shelnutt, a once-prominent attorney who has faced his own legal issues over the last five years.

In addition to the ones I just mentioned, Assistant District Attorney LaRae Moore; Columbus Police Chief Ricky Boren; Phenix City Mayor Eddie Lowe; successful businessman Jack Pezold; Goodwill of the Southern Rivers President Jane Nichols; and St. Francis Hospital President Robert Granger have carved out time to participate.

The cool part as a reporter is I can walk into a CEO’s office and ask questions that those who work for them can’t or won’t.

I try to ask these questions with respect, going so far as to tell folks it is not a got-you interview, but there will likely be some tough questions.

It would not be fair to the readers or the people being interviewed not to ask those questions.

Someone asked me the other day how long it will take for these weekly interviews to play out. I thought about and said it could easily go two years, maybe twice that long.

There is no shortage of powerful, interesting and newsworthy people in Columbus, Phenix City and the surrounding area.

But we need your help. We would like to know who you think should be interviewed. Send the names to chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com. I can’t promise we will do them all, but let’s put the names in a pool and see what makes sense.

At the end of the day, the readers win when interesting and powerful people let us ask them questions.

Chuck Williams, senior editor for content, chwilliams@ledger-enquirer.com.

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