Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Weeklies like Deer Creek Pilot thrive in Miss. by focusing on community, sticking to their guns

Weekly newspapers are booming in Mississippi, fueled by editors and writers who focus on the community and stick to their guns, Billy Watkins reports for The Clarion-Ledger, the state's largest daily, in Jackson. The state has 82 counties and 89 weeklies. Emma Crisler, editor and publisher of the Port Gibson Reveille in the southwestern part of the state, told Watkins, "We want people to know what’s going on and how it’s going to affect their lives. People will come by the paper and ask, ‘What’s happened this week?’ They’re still excited about what’s coming out in the paper.”

One paper getting it right is The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork, (Best Places map), Watkins writes. Ray Mosby, editor and publisher, has been at the paper 23 years. The newspaper has a circulation of 1,450 across Sharkey and Issaquena counties, "which have a combined population of approximately 6,400 and rank among the poorest counties in the state."

Mosby told Watkins, “But guess what? ESPN isn’t going to tell my readers the score of the high school girls basketball game. CNN is not going to tell them what happened at the board of supervisors meeting. To me, the smaller the community, the more vital the community newspaper is.”

Mosby also doesn't shy away from expressing his opinion in columns, telling Watkins, “I never want anyone to finish one of my (editorial) columns and not know where I stand on an issue." He said after one such column a man whose arms "were bigger than my waist" came into the office looking for him. The man told him, “There are a lot of folks out there who think you ain’t nothing but a son of a b----. But can’t a single one of them call you a liar.”

Mosby told Watkins, “I’d never seen him before, and I’ve never seen him since. That was about 1995, a couple of years after me and the bank bought the paper. I had come in here from the Clarksdale Press Register and applied the principles of a daily newspaper to the weekly. Every week I had a ‘real’ front page that consisted of news and a ‘real’ editorial page that offered opinion. Folks around here weren’t used to that and I was wondering if the paper was going to make it. For some reason, that man’s words assured me it would."

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