Your local newspaper is strong and innovative

When I told friends in late January that I was leaving the marketing and public relations world to return to the field of journalism, most of them were – understandably – surprised, shocked and even a little concerned.

After all, we’ve all heard the horror stories of how newspapers are dying, and we’re seeing this trend at work in many of our local communities. In fact, it seems like newspapers are, on a daily basis, going under or being gobbled up by massive chains only concerned with profit margins.

I wasn’t offended by their concerns. In fact, I was secretly a little concerned myself, but the opportunity to head up Hattiesburg’s finest newspaper – and south Mississippi’s premier lifestyles magazine – was too good to pass up.

I exchanged my public relations hat for a reporter’s notebook, and a new journey began.

It was certainly a familiar journey. I sort of grew up around newspapers. At age 15, I was hired as a community correspondent for The Daily Leader in my hometown of Brookhaven, and I wrote a weekly column about the goings-on of my small community. Later, I joined their editorial staff as the weekend obituaries writer.

Let me tell you … writing obituaries is the best journalism class one can get. You’ll immediately hear about it if you make a mistake, so you quickly learn that accuracy is a must. You pick up all of the newspaper style preferences, and you learn how to better format text to tell a compelling story. It was a great start to my career.

That part-time gig at the Leader led to another gig as editor of my community college paper, which meant I got a lot of scholarship money and even more on-the-job training. I left the Leader behind when I moved to Hattiesburg in 2011, but my journalism career followed and prospered. I was lucky to serve for three years as editor-in-chief of William Carey University’s student newspaper, The Cobbler.

Somewhere early in my college years, I bought into the hype that newspapers were dying, and I decided to focus on public relations. I even landed a job at Carey in the external relations office, but I was never far from The Cobbler. In fact, I was even promoted to be its staff adviser, so I was constantly scratching my “journalism itch.”

The corporate marketing world called my name in mid-2016, and I answered the call with bright-eyed enthusiasm. I worked at some great places over the next four years, and the work was certainly interesting. However, I never left work with a feeling of complete satisfaction, and I was ready for a career change when this job came along in 2020.

It feels like I’ve been in this job for years now – but in a good way. I’m satisfied with what I do, and the work is certainly never boring. I get to collaborate with bright and fun people, and we get to tell the stories behind our awesome communities. It couldn’t get any better, right?

Wrong. We’re just getting started, really. You can take that “newspapers are dying” stuff and forget it, at least in our community. The Pine Belt News is only going to get better over time.

We’re rolling out a ton of new things over the next few months, including a heavy push into our website and its new Reader Posting feature. You can read all about that in the ad on page 15, and you can even earn some money by becoming one of our “citizen journalists.” What a time to be alive!

Inside this paper is the annual Pine Belt Sports: Football Preview, which is incredibly well done, and, on Friday, you’ll get to see the newest edition of our monthly magazine, Signature. It’s 96 pages in length, so it’ll make a nice thud when you drop it on your coffee table. (However, I encourage you to share it with a neighbor … they’ll love it, I promise!)

We’re also launching a news podcast, and more details about that will come out on our social media channels this week. I’ll be your host, and Jamie Massengale, our intrepid features editor, will join me weekly to do a 15-minute breakdown of local news. We’ll have fun guests, and we’re looking forward to a strong start to that product.

Of course, Pine Belt Sports has a podcast, too, and it’s also available weekly. I could use the next five pages to tell you about all of our products and upcoming plans, but I encourage you to keep an eye on our website, HubCitySPOKES.com, and connect with us on social media.

Most importantly, I encourage you to keep reading, and when you hear someone say, “Well, newspapers are dying,” show them this column. There’s a lot of room for innovation in the newspaper realm, and we’re delighted to be on the forefront of that.

Stay tuned!

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