A tale of newsprint, dinosaurs and adapting to change

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?

A life intertwined with newspapers comes full circle

My life has been intertwined with newspapers for as long as I can remember.

As a little boy, I loved retrieving the newspaper from the bright-orange box at the end of the driveway and looking at the pictures. I was especially excited when my dad, a police officer, was mentioned or pictured in the paper, and I still remember the first time – in the second grade, after winning a spelling bee – that I saw my own name in print. It was exhilarating.

I caught the reporting bug shortly thereafter, and I loved to hold mock interviews with my grandparents after school. In about the fourth grade, I founded my own newspaper at my church. It was called Kids R Us and focused on my friends and our adventures. I think it ran for an issue or two, and I remember designing it in Microsoft Word and even selling ads for it.

In 2005, at the age of 15, I accepted my first newspaper job as a community correspondent for The Daily Leader newspaper in my hometown of Brookhaven, Mississippi. For the next six years, I wrote a weekly column covering the goings-on of my small community, East Lincoln, and I dutifully covered every church potluck dinner, school reunion and new resident I could find.

When I wasn’t reporting live from my neck of the woods, I was in the paper’s newsroom typing obituaries, reviewing copy, answering phones and, eventually, writing stories ranging from the latest antics of the local legislative delegation to a bank robber on a bicycle. (Yes, the “Bicycle Bandit” was eventually caught, but not before I filed several stories on the topic.)

I fell in love with newspapers during that time, and I also learned their importance. Newspapers are more than ink on paper; they tell a community’s good news, help neighbors connect with one another and serve as a watchdog for local governments. They provide an incredibly valuable public service.

Those six years of on-the-job training provided me with a first-class education in journalism and reinforced my passion for writing and telling stories. My early experiences in a newsroom also opened an avalanche of professional opportunities for me, and, in 2010, I was recruited to Hattiesburg as the new editor-in-chief of William Carey University’s student newspaper, The Cobbler.

I was involved with Carey’s newspaper for another six years, including three as editor and three as adviser, and my work in its pages landed me my first full-time job as Carey’s marketing specialist. My career detoured into public relations and marketing for a few years, but the desire to return to my first love of newspapers was never far away.

So, I was thrilled when David Gustafson asked me to be the new managing editor of HubCitySPOKES and to help mold the pages of this newspaper and of Signature Magazine. You may have heard that newspapers are a dying breed, but I submit the paper you are reading now as evidence contrary to that opinion. The PineBelt NEWS is a strong, community-based newspaper, and David and his team have positioned it for long-term success in a challenging media landscape.

Our community needs, and deserves, a community newspaper, and The PineBelt NEWS is glad to be yours. I ask that you support our work, buy advertising for your businesses, encourage your friends to subscribe, and, most importantly, share your stories with us. We are looking forward to a bright future, and we know we can depend on our community.