In fact, Mississippi’s newspapers are generally doing quite well, thank you. Recently, I had the opportunity to meet with several folks who are in the know about Mississippi newspapers. Layne Bruce is the executive director of the Mississippi Press Association; Joel McNeece is President of the MPA and publisher of the Calhoun County Journal; and Will Norton is dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media at the University of Mississippi.
The Mississippi Press Association counts 110 members in 81 counties in Mississippi, so my first question for this group was: are newspapers in Mississippi generally healthy?
“Definitely,” said Layne. “The vitality of our business in Mississippi might take some by surprise, but newspapers in this state are strong and healthy, and they continue to make vital contributions to their communities and to the state as a whole.”
“I guess you could say we’ve been battling the national narrative about newspapers,” Joel added. “But at least in Mississippi, our products are well received, and they continue to serve critical information needs in their communities.”
From Will’s point of view, “each major new media revolution doesn’t mean that the existing media cease to exist. Look at radio, television, and so on. It’s more of an evolutionary process, and if the central focus changes, that doesn’t mean that newspapers won’t change and still be doing what they do best in the future.”
Considering the whole impact of the “digital revolution”, I asked whether print and digital media can co-exist in effective ways.
“I’d say it’s true that this has been lopsided in recent years,” Layne suggested. “But what many people need to understand is that we’re reaching more people than ever in our history, between the two media. We need to talk about our total reach and audience, and not segment those into different buckets.”
“With that said,” Joel offered, “it is probably true that newspapers in smaller communities have been less impacted than those in larger communities. In many Mississippi counties, for instance, a lot of people don’t have computer access, and they rely on us for the important news and events.”
In some important ways, he group agreed that especially in the smaller communities, newspapers are the original and continuing “social media”, covering the small and large happenings, serving as the conduit between citizens and government, and providing a voice for all types of issues and concerns.
“I’d have to simply say that we haven’t promoted ourselves as we should,” Layne said. “In fact, there are more newspapers being published in Mississippi than there were 5 years ago.”
What would happen if suddenly, newspapers disappeared from the scene?
“It would clearly cause great damage to our communities and our citizens,” Joel said. “We’re the watchdogs in terms of government, and many people simply wouldn’t know what’s happening in their local government agencies without us. Clearly, that would be a very bad thing.”
They pointed out a number of instances in which Mississippi newspapers have been integral in getting laws changed that were not beneficial to their communities, and Layne pointed out that the MPA carefully follows and interacts with the state Legislature.
“It’s important to us that government be transparent, and we have aggressively fought to protect open records laws,” Joel said.
I asked Will about the Meek School of Journalism and how he views his mission.
“We have about 1,300 students in the school,” he said. “Our goal is to deliver a broad and effective education, in whatever the medium our students may work. Down the road, the important thing will be distinguishing between good and bad reporting.”
All agreed that it’s undoubtedly true to say that a great deal of what gets passed off as “reporting” these days really isn’t reporting at all, but simply someone’s opinion as expressed in a blog, on social media, and so on. In the newspaper arena, at least, publishers and editors continue to vet their reporters and staff writers, and obviously, that isn’t true of the “blogosphere”.
From Layne’s point of view, “newspapers in our state have a bright future, and we expect to keep doing what we do best for a long time to come.”
» Contact Mississippi Business Journal publisher Alan Turner at email@example.com or (601) 364-1021.
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