Q&A: Rusty Hampton leaves journalism after 30 years for the engineering field
Rusty Hampton is the marketing editor at Neel-Schaffer, a Jackson-based engineering firm. Hampton spent 30 years in the newspaper business, as a reporter and editor. He comes to Neel-Schaffer having spent the last decade-plus as sports editor of The Clarion-Ledger.
Q — As marketing editor, what’s your day-to-day like?
A — No two days are alike, which is nice.
In my role as marketing editor, I have a variety of duties, including editing copy written by others for job proposals and projects and writing stories myself. A typical day might go something like this: Spend the morning editing a key job proposal for our Kentucky office and then split my afternoon between interviewing an engineer to write a project report and talking to the head of our IT department to write a story for our company newsletter on technology changes coming to Neel-Schaffer. The next day might bring something totally different, from editing a brochure to visiting one of our subsidiary offices and meeting with engineers to write a project report.
I also edit brochures, press releases and other material produced by the marketing department.
Q — Do you have daily deadlines? If not, what’s the transition been like?
A — We have deadlines, and sometimes they are pressing, but it’s not the same as in the newspaper business, where you have a deadline every single night, 365 days a year. That includes Christmas and New Year’s Day and Thanksgiving and every other holiday.
In producing a sports section, the deadlines are especially harsh, given the number of events we would cover at The Clarion-Ledger that were played at night and would end right at deadline — or sometimes even after deadline. There’s a small part of me that misses the adrenalin rush you get from making that deadline and then watching the press run and then holding in your hand a printed copy of what you put together on the computer just minutes ago. That said, it’s been nice working “normal hours” during the day and NOT working on weekends — or holidays. I was off work for a Saturday, Sunday and Monday for the Memorial Day weekend this year. I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened — or if it ever did — when I worked as a reporter or editor.
Q — What were your feelings about leaving the newspaper business after more than 30 years?
A — I loved working in the newspaper industry. It was the only job I had after college, either as a reporter or editor. I loved so many things about the job and the people and what we were able to accomplish over the years. But it was time for a change, a chance to do something different in a thriving industry and work for a growing, Mississippi-based company like Neel-Schaffer.
Q — Now that you’ve been away from it for a few weeks, has your perspective on the industry changed any?
A — Not really. It’s still an industry struggling to make the transition from print to digital.
The Clarion-Ledger is owned by Gannett, the largest newspaper chain in the country. You would think that size would help The C-L be ahead of the game, but it’s really just the opposite. Gannett is a massive company moving at a snail’s pace in a quickly changing industry. It was frustrating to me and my colleagues to see corporate dismantle a once-great newspaper through layoffs and buyouts and morale-lowering budget cuts and furloughs, all the while struggling to come up with a plan to move the newspaper into the digital age.
Newspapers (and not just Gannett newspapers) really missed the boat some 15 years ago when they chose to ignore the Internet and the change that was coming. By the time they realized this change — and social media — was here to stay, the industry was woefully behind and has been playing catch-up ever since.
Despite all that, I’m still a big fan of The Clarion-Ledger and the people who work there. I want the industry to survive and thrive. I want the leaders of the industry to figure out how to make this work, because good newspapers are part of a healthy democracy.
Those who follow the industry know other companies have made drastic changes. The New Orleans Times-Picayune, Birmingham News, Mobile Press-Register and Huntsville Times all are printed only three days a week now. Those newspapers are putting more emphasis on 24/7 real-time reporting on their websites.
It would not surprise me to see most newspapers eventually go to some variation of this, cutting back on print to beef up their digital offerings for smartphones, tablets and the web. Society is changing and newspapers must change, too. Unfortunately, too many of those in charge haven’t figured out how to make that happen — yet. Here’s hoping they succeed soon.
More on Hampton:
Must have Mississippi food: Red Beans and Rice from Hal & Mals or anything from Lumpkins BBQ.
Favorite movie: All-time — “The Sting;” recent — “Argo.”
Last book read: ‘“The Big Miss: My years coaching Tiger Woods.’ Hank Haney’s tell-all (sort of) on golf’s greatest player.
(What, you thought it’d be ‘Handbook of Technical Writing?’ That’s on my desk; just haven’t finished it yet!)”
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