Greenville native Wally Northway had written a lot of songs but never a news story when he ventured into newspapering at the Mississippi Business Journal in 1997 after a career as a college administrator.
A few thousand stories later, the soon-to-retire business journalist can lay claim to a career well spent. “I always felt like it was important work,” Northway said during a recent break from compiling the newspaper’s early morning web postings and reporting on the activities of some of Mississippi’s most interesting entrepreneurs and business professionals.
“We’re the only statewide paper dedicated to business in Mississippi,” he said of the weekly publication that has been the state’s premier source of business news for 35 years.
“I don’t regret a minute of it. … It’s been a great ride. I’ll tell you that,” said Northway, who also has devoted a lifetime to playing guitar and writing songs, mostly “love ballads.”
“Growing up in the Delta you pretty much have to like music,” said the 1978 Greenville High School graduate.
“I never was a great guitar player. I felt my end of it was as a songwriter,” added Northway, author of the anthem “God Save the Delta.”
Northway’s entry into journalism came via Joe Jones, former MBJ owner and publisher, who brought the former William Carey University recruiting administrator on to tackle a tough advertising sales job.
“Wally was a friend of my brother’s,” said Jones, now semi-retired as a CPA and entrepreneur. “We had a publication that needed someone to sell it.”
The special pub didn’t have much going for it and after a few months Jones decided to scrap it.
But what would he do with Northway?
“I had gotten pretty impressed with Wally and asked him to stay” on as a news staffer, Jones said. “I put him in the newsroom and he took off. The rest is history.”
Jones said he “liked Northway’s character,” and noted: “I don’t want to let a guy with good character get away just because he lacks experience.”
Jones bought the paper after its former owners hired him to seek out potential buyers. The more he studied the paper’s operation, the more he became convinced of its business viability and its potential to become the voice for business in Mississippi. He soon presented himself as the best potential buyer.
Jones’ faith in the paper created a loyalty among the MBJ crew that endured for his dozen years of ownership, Northway recalled. “I can’t say enough about Joe Jones and how I was treated. He always treated us like family.”
When Northway shifted from sales to the news reporting, he had some familiarity with the media from a stint years earlier as William Carey’s communications director. He had taken on that job after receiving an MBA there.
In between, though, he had spent a decade at William Carey’s coastal Mississippi campus as director of financial aid and recruiting.
The inheritance of his great-great grandfather’s Civil War diary detailing his days as a foot soldier with Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia led him to Jackson. Northway planned to write a book on the great-great grandfather’s experiences. The state capital would provide easier access to archival material relating to the war and his ancestor’s participation in it, Northway decided.
The book on the long-ago Rebel awaits completion.
In the meantime, Northway has chronicled a lot of Mississippi’s business growth and some of its human tragedies.
“Nissan was really big,” he said of the 2002 arrival in Mississippi of the Japanese automaker. In the months and weeks before the official Nissan announcement, “We knew something big was happening but we were not quite sure what.”
Northway said he chanced upon the website of a small Alabama paper that was reporting Nissan had selected Mississippi over Alabama.
“I didn’t break the story but I broke it to the Mississippi Business Journal,” which quickly confirmed the story and broke it to the rest of the Magnolia State, Northway said.
“For once in my life I went in and said, ‘Stop the presses!’ Even though we didn’t have any presses.”
In 2006, the death and destruction of Katrina left Northway and the rest of the MBJ crew dazed and uncertain how to report a tragedy of such immense magnitude. “The most poignant and biggest story easily was Katrina,” Northway said of his more than decade-and-a-half at the business newspaper.
Several days after Katrina, the crew set about working toward yet another press deadline. At editor Jim Laird’s directions, Northway said, the staff went through the paper and took out any pre-Katrina news about the coast and the people there, “because they may not be with us anymore.”
That “sent a chill,” he recalled.
Northway has worked the last half dozen years under the leadership of MBJ Publisher Alan Turner. “Wally Northway has been a great member of the MBJ team for longer than any other employee,” Turner said.
“He has always shown a willingness to work hard and help us make the MBJ the best publication it can be. But Wally is much more than just a great employee; he’s a great friend to all of us, and he’ll be truly missed.”
If you’ve received a phone call from Northway over the years, you have heard his signature introduction: “Have I caught you at a bad time?”
Northway recalled he borrowed the intro from a fellow staffer during his greenhorn period. But his closing signature phrase did originate with him:
“Come on by. The coffee is free.”
BEFORE YOU GO…
… we’d like to ask for your support. More people are reading the Mississippi Business Journal than ever before, but advertising revenues for all conventional media are falling fast. Unlike many, we do not use a pay wall, because we want to continue providing Mississippi’s most comprehensive business news each and every day. But that takes time, money and hard work. We do it because it is important to us … and equally important to you, if you value the flow of trustworthy news and information which have always kept America strong and free for more than 200 years.
If those who read our content will help fund it, we can continue to bring you the very best in news and information. Please consider joining us as a valued member, or if you prefer, make a one-time contribution.Click for more info