Editors note: The majority of this story was written by longtime The Mississippi Press Lifestyles editor Susan Ruddiman and printed in that publication on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2012. It marked the last story she would ever write for the publication that employed her for 31 years, as her position was eliminated the next day. That was when the change from a daily publication of at least 50 years morphed into just a shell of itself as a four-page printed wrap-around edition. This story is meant to provide a historical look at a newspaper that for decades was part of the fabric of our society in Jackson and George Counties and other surrounding areas.
In late September of 2012, The Mississippi Press entered a new era as the community newspaper for Jackson and George counties.
At that time, the newspaper became a part of two newly formed companies — Alabama Media Group and Advance Central Services, which then managed overall operations at the The Mississippi Press as well as the Mobile Press-Register, Huntsville Times and Birmingham News. All four of those publications ceased printing newspapers several days ago, on Sunday, Feb., 26th 2023.
Over many decades, The Mississippi Press was a major part of Jackson County’s rich journalism history.
W.J. Hearin, the late owner of the Press-Register, founded the Pascagoula-based community paper in 1964 to provide competition to The Chronicle.
In the early 1940s, The Chronicle-Star and The Moss Point Advertiser were combined under one ownership and located in two metal buildings with brick fronts on the 300 block of Delmas Avenue in downtown Pascagoula.
It was under the ownership of Ira B. Harkey Jr., a former writer with the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, that he converted the newspaper from a weekly format to semi-weekly in 1957. Five years later, he renamed the newspaper The Chronicle, and published it seven days a week.
Harkey won a Pultizer Prize during his tenure as publisher/editor of The Chronicle.
Jerry St. Pe, retired president of Ingalls shipbuilding operations, first came to Pascagoula to work as a general assignment reporter for The Chronicle Star from 1958-61. He then left to work at Ingalls Shipbuilding, but returned to the newsroom briefly in 1965 as an editor at the upstart The Mississippi Press Register.
“I loved it. It was a lot of fun for a young journalist to have a situation where you have daily competing newspapers,” St. Pe said.
Joanne George Anderson spent a summer working at The Chronicle as the women’s editor where she met St. Pe.
“He was a reporter and a photographer,” Anderson said. “He would go with me on assignments and take the photos.”
She added, “I really had some good teachers earlier on. I didn’t realize the education I was getting then.”
She said she was most proud to be called a newspaperwoman.
“That is a term of the past and to me that is sad because it is the end of an era,” Anderson said.
Both St. Pe and Anderson echoed their beliefs the community has benefited over the years with the quality of journalism and newspapers.
The Chronicle and The Mississippi Press Register became one newspaper in a series of moves in June 1966.
On June 16, the current owner of The Chronicle sold the newspaper to Thomson Newspapers Inc. On June 19, The Mississippi Press Register announced it had acquired The Chronicle.
Then, on June 30, S.I. Newhouse of New York purchased the controlling stock of the Mobile Press-Register Inc., and with it, The Mississippi Press and The Chronicle.
The two newspapers united staff, and operations continued out of the Delmas Avenue building. Gary Holland, who had been editor of The Chronicle, became the editor of the combined The Mississippi Press Register. The newspaper was published six days a week. Hearin, who maintained his office in Mobile, was the publisher.
In 1971, the newspaper expanded its coverage area, opening its first branch office in Ocean Springs to serve west Jackson County.
The newspaper’s first in-house publisher, Wanda Jacobs, came onboard in 1993 after starting her career at The Times-Picayune. The Mississippi Press employed about 105 full-time and part-time people.
Holland remained as editor until his retirement in 1996. He passed away in 2018.
He was succeeded by Dan Davis, a long-time writer and editor at The Clarion Ledger in Jackson, who had joined the staff as managing editor earlier in the year.
Under Davis’ tenure, The Mississippi Press expanded to seven-days a week publication, adding a Saturday paper. The newspaper had maintained news coverage in George County since the 1980s, but in 1998, a Lucedale bureau office opened with a staff of five.
In addition, the newspaper switched from an afternoon publication to becoming a morning newspaper.
September 2002 was the most active month for the formation of tropical storms and hurricanes ever recorded. Though there was not a direct hit in Pascagoula, the heavy rains from three systems impacted the aging building on Delmas Avenue.
First, the pressroom flooded, so the printing of The Mississippi Press was moved to the Press-Register in Mobile. Second, the rains had aggravated a sewer gas problem and mold started forming in older sections of the building.
In November 2002, the building on Delmas Avenue was shut down, and employees were relocated to Jackson Avenue in Pascagoula. In January 2003, the publisher, advertising, graphics and circulation moved to offices on U.S. 90 in Gautier, leaving the newsroom and some advertising staff at the Jackson Avenue location.
Dan Davis, who had left as editor in December 2002, was replaced with Steve Cox of Montgomery, Ala., in March 2003.
Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast Aug. 29, 2005. The newsroom on Jackson Avenue received more than 2 feet of flood water. The building in Gautier was damaged from wind-swept water. Both buildings were closed until repairs were completed.
An emergency newsroom was established on the second floor of the Press-Register in Mobile, where the newspaper was already being printed. By Sept. 6, the publisher, circulation, graphics and advertising departments were established in a larger conference room on the first floor of the Press-Register.
On Oct. 31, 2005, the publisher, newsroom, advertising and graphic departments returned to Jackson Avenue. The classified and circulation departments stayed at the Press-Register. That fall, both the Ocean Springs and Lucedale bureau offices closed.
Cox resigned as executive editor in May 2006, and Harlan Kirgan of Grand Coteau La., was named the new editor the following month.
In October 2006, The Mississippi Press moved to the office in Gautier.
Jackie Byrd of Bay Minette, the editor of the Baldwin Register in Alabama, lead the newsroom, along with a series of visiting editors from the Mobile Press-Register, from October 2007-August 2008.
Long-time Press-Register sports writer Gareth Clary of Hurley was named the executive editor of The Mississippi Press in August 2008. A month later, the night-time layout of the newspaper’s sports and news pages was moved to the Press-Register as part of a consolidation of the operations.
On Oct. 1, 2008, The Mississippi Press newspaper became a Mississippi edition of the Press-Register.
The Mississippi Press office returned to Pascagoula on Convent Avenue Feb. 25, 2009, where the staff continued training in the digital age with website postings and a social media presence, as well as producing copy for the print editions.
Ricky Mathews, the former publisher at Biloxi’s SunHerald, was named president and publisher of the Press-Register in August 2009, directing newspapers in Birmingham and Huntsville as well as The Mississippi Press.
Mathews moved to the Times-Picayune and on May 24 2010, news leaked in the New York Times of major changes were coming to the New Orleans paper. Those changes soon were announced at the Alabama papers and The Mississippi Press, which like the Times-Picayune, are owned by Advance Publications.
On June 12 of that same year, it was announced that roughly 400 employees in the Alabama Media Group and Alabama Central Services would lose their jobs, many of which ended in late September of 2012.
And ultimately, The Mississippi Press was laid to rest on Sunday, March 26th, 2023
(Parts of a history of newspapers in Pascagoula, compiled by the late Regina Hines Ellison, were used in this story.)
(Edits in 2023 were made by Curtis Rockwell, who spent two different terms covering 15 total years of service with the Mississippi Press as a journalist in a span from 1989-2017.)