“We had joy. We had fun. We had seasons in the sun…” Certain stanzas of that old 1970s song came to mind recently as the last printed edition of The Mississippi Press rolled off the press.
This past Sunday I said goodbye to that old friend. Future circulation of The Mississippi Press will be all-digital. We are in the Information Age where news is at our fingertips. I do support progressiveness. Progressiveness got rural America out of the dark in the mid-1900s when electricity made its way outward and onward. With the right technological online applications, a person can find news. It’s not quite as easy as having it delivered on your doorstep, but the trade-off is instantaneous info for those with fast Internet and the know-how to glean quality information from bogus information. My biggest concern is the latter. Even though, there is still something sad, for me anyway, about the loss of a physical publication we can hold in our hands.
Nearly 15 years ago The Mississippi Press became a four-page wrap-around for The Mobile Press Register. It stopped covering George and Jackson County government meetings and local sports. Oftentimes it printed articles from the Associated Press wire featuring stories set in north Mississippi completely unrelated to the Gulf Coast. The Mississippi Press has gradually withered away; so, its death is no surprise albeit still saddening. However, when I moved to south Mississippi in 1988 as a young journalist that newspaper was an essential institution of our community.
How lucky am I to have been a part of that former way of news gathering and delivery? I was the youngest news reporter on staff when the Editor-in-Chief, Gary Holland, took a chance and hired me. I was surrounded by seasoned journalists who took me under their wings and were always willing to help me. Some of those legendary reporters, who have since passed away, were Don Broadus, Gloria Moore, Ann Peck, Tom Donnelly and Judy Johnson. Holland, editor-in chief during that tenure, died in 2018. Many of my colleagues are still alive, and it is always a delight to see them as we have the same blood. In my opinion, no occupation is as exciting as journalism. Every day of my 12 years at The Mississippi Press was different. A reporter can never predict what might happen on any given day. Each morning required a flood of energy to type late-breaking stories as quickly and as accurately as humanly possible.
On election days, the overtime really kicked in. We waited for the voting results, sometimes until late at night, and then either raced back to the office to type the results or called them in from a payphone in the hallway of the courthouse. Speaking of covering elections, that’s the way I met my husband. I had only been on the job a month when the southern states held its primary for the presidential election on a day known as Super Tuesday. This was during the era when returns were brought in box by box from the precincts. Results were written on chalkboards in the courtroom. Candidates and their families as well as interested voters gathered in the courtroom or the grassy lawn outside the building to await results. The Circuit Clerk announced each precinct’s votes via a loud speaker for all to hear. I had gone to the clerk’s office that afternoon to make preparations for the evening’s event. A handsome young lawyer named Mark Maples followed me from the courthouse to my car. Fourteen months later we were married. As Paul Harvey used to say, “and that’s the rest of the story.”
Mississippi Press readers will remember Old Crab. I’m often asked the identity of Old Crab. Back in the paper’s heyday we were encouraged to keep that info secret. Old Crab was actually all of us. We were expected to create crabby sayings that included the word “dadburn.” The best one of the day was printed in the lower left-hand corner of the front page next to a cartoon drawing of a blue crab. It could be something witty, timely or cynical, but it had to be brief. Without a doubt, the employee who had the best and most published Old Crab quips was the late Jerry Moulder. Jerry was our chain-smoking photographer who had a dry sense of humor making him always fun to be around.
Back then it was real journalism. Local news reporters covered court trials. We attended public meetings like the Boards of Supervisors, Boards of Aldermen/Councilmen, and the Boards of Education. Journalists stayed for entire meetings including waiting out lengthy executive sessions. Newspapers back then did not rely on public relation press releases that only give one side of the message.
I left the daily grind of newspaper reporting to be more available to my husband, our three children and my parents. When our children were teenagers, I began pondering a reentry into the journalism world but realized newspapers were changing. I entered graduate school to better market myself and earned a masters degree in Communication. That was 2012 to 2014 when so many changes were beginning to take place in the media world. The professor who chaired my thesis committee suggested I write my final paper on “What it Means to Lose a Daily Newspaper.” I spent a year researching scholarly journals and interviewing newspaper readers. Findings in my study showed newspaper readers expect more from their paper than just information. They expected their newspaper to keep them connected with their community, to keep them current about community members’ deaths, events sponsored by organizations, local government affairs and to provide diversions via comic strip stories and brain puzzles like crosswords. Readers also expected their newspaper to be a part of their daily routine and to serve as a consistency aiding their habit or ritual for a daily routine of reading the news. This routine assisted as a tool for daily living because it kept order in their lives as a comfort method, and it kept order in their lives for being knowledgeable about their community.
Nowadays I teach full-time at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. I also write a weekly column for The George County Times and freelance for Our Mississippi Home and Today in Mississippi.
It’s all joy…all seasons in the sun.