I was 15 years old when I got my start in newspapers as a community correspondent for The Daily Leader in my hometown of Brookhaven.
The year was 2005, and the social media network MySpace had just been established. We were still a few years away from its gargantuan success and the stunning follow-up growth of its competitor, Facebook. Twitter came about in mid-2006, but it would be a while before it made a huge cultural impact.
Absent the strong social media platforms we have today, newspapers were still king of the news landscape, and the Leader boasted a strong circulation and was still – as its name suggests – a daily newspaper. It was a family-owned operation, too, and that made a world of difference.
Back then, newspapers had bustling newsrooms full of reporters, editors, graphic designers and young folks like me who wanted to get into the news business. I learned journalism by typing obituaries and writing a weekly column about my tiny community in rural Lincoln County, and it was the best education one could receive. Newspapers like the Hattiesburg American were still giants, and you’d see people reading the print product as they waited to conduct their business in shops or offices in nearly every town.
There were newspaper carriers in those days, and they were faithful employees who would rise early every morning to deliver the day’s news – and the sales papers with their enclosed coupons – to homes. At my house, our carrier became a friend, and each year, we swapped Christmas cards. People knew about what time the newspaper would come every day, and they eagerly looked forward to it. If it didn’t arrive on time, the newspaper office’s phones would ring off the hook with questions.
I could tell you nostalgic stories like that for days, but those days are long gone, and there’s no point in trying to relive them. The internet – and social media networks in particular – dropped an atomic bomb on the newspaper industry, and few newspapers were prepared for the blast. People now rely heavily on Facebook and Twitter for their news, and online news websites and blogs see incredible amounts of traffic each day. The news cycle never ends, and many newspapers have failed to adapt to this new reality.
The Leader is still being published, but the local owners – the Jacobs family – sold it a few years back to a large newspaper chain. It’s no longer daily and instead publishes a couple of times a week. The once-busy building now sits mostly empty, and the printing has been outsourced to a central facility. The carriers lost their jobs years ago, and the newspaper is now distributed by the faithful folks of the U.S. Postal Service. It’s a similar story for the American, which has been slowly stripped of its prominence by owner and mass media company Gannett. Both of these newspapers have online presences, but much of that content is pulled from news wires and sister properties. The hyperlocal feel is gone.
Newspapers strive to deliver credible information to readers, and their decline allowed holes to form in the news landscape. On social media, everyone can be a reporter, and accurate and nuanced information can be hard to come by these days. I fancy myself to be a newsman, and I’ve adopted certain ethics, such as promising to be an unbiased source of information. “Citizen journalists” on social media aren’t bound by those same creeds, and misinformation can run rampant. Of course, we’ve also seen how online news sources can be manipulated by other countries, such as Russia, for sinister purposes.
The news industry will continue to be revolutionized by the internet in the coming years, and many people expect newspapers to go the way of the dinosaur. This extinction event has already wiped out a lot of newspapers, but there’s still a few bastions of hope. You happen to be reading one of them. The PineBelt NEWS remains a local newspaper, and we’re here to stay. We’re committed to bringing you accurate, balanced and timely news, and we’ll continue to do so until someone pries the cameras and keyboards away from our hands.
Although we publish weekly, we are often the first news outlet in the Pine Belt to break major stories, and we post them regularly on our website. Our social media channels continue to be prosperous, and our news team scours Forrest and Lamar counties looking for stories. Our readers get so much more than just breaking news; they get an intriguing mix of features and other items of interest from all of our local communities. We take the biggest news stories of the day and package them with other items for our weekly edition, which remains a viable and popular product.
Like other newspapers, we face a number of challenges, but we’ve positioned ourselves as a community-oriented newspaper with a strong position to grow. We need your help, though, in the form of advertising and subscription revenue. We need you to encourage your friends and family members to subscribe, to follow us on social media and to read our online stories. Our success is contingent on community support, and we know the Pine Belt is full of people who want to be informed and engaged.
I don’t know what the news industry will look like in another 15 years. I’ll be 45 then, and I imagine I’ll still be pecking away at a keyboard and reporting your news. That’s my hope, anyway, and I look forward to adapting to continuing changes. Support us, and check back in with me in 2035, OK?