LLOYD GRAY: Of retirements, lengthy tenures and local memory

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

“Tough but fair.” I used to hear that description of Philip Moulden all the time when he was a reporter for the Daily Journal and previously when we worked together at The Meridian Star.
Public officials didn’t always enjoy their encounters with Philip – he never let them off easy – but invariably they respected his professionalism.
Philip came to the Daily Journal in 1994, already a veteran of a couple of decades in the newspaper business. He covered Lee County and Tupelo city government for nine years before moving to the anonymity of the copy desk in 2003, where he’s been editing stories, writing headlines and designing pages ever since.
Friday was Philip’s last day at the Journal. After nearly four decades in the business, he decided it was time to retire. More time on the golf course for Philip, less knowledge of the news and the world in general for us.
He’s the consummate newspaper person, motivated by the desire to serve readers with a good story of his own or a compilation of the day’s events from others. He bristled at the blurring of news and entertainment in the wider media and at some of the things that newspapers felt compelled to do to compete with all the distractions.
Through it all, he helped make the Daily Journal a better newspaper in his 16 years with us. “Tough but fair” is pretty good career summary in this business.

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While Philip’s 16 years was a significant tenure at this newspaper, a few others still on the job have been here considerably longer. We’ve got a lot of institutional memory in the Daily Journal newsroom.
In the seat next to Philip’s on the copy desk sits Judy Putt, who’s been with the Journal for 34 years. She designs the feature section pages of the paper.
Editorial Page Editor Joe Rutherford is the tenure dean of our newsroom staff, with 38 years at the Journal, including stints as reporter and managing editor. Joe’s the go-to guy here when anybody wants to be filled in about local people, places and events over that time.
Down in Jackson, Bobby Harrison is in his 27th year with the Journal, 15 of those as Capitol correspondent. Before that he was sports editor and then news editor.
Judy McGhee, meanwhile, is still writing obituaries 25 years after she fielded her first call from a funeral home at the Journal.
That’s the quarter-century-plus club in our newsroom. We’ve got several candidates for admission later in this decade – and senior sports writer Gene Phelps qualifies next year – but for now it’s a pretty select group.
The Journal itself has been around 140 years, and in its 74 years as a daily it has enjoyed a degree of news staff stability that is remarkable for a paper our size in a transient business. We’ve got a good mix of people who’ve worked here all or most of their careers and others who’ve had experience at other newspapers and in other lines of work. We’ve got grayhairs like your editor and twenty-somethings who can write and think circles around him.
Some of our staff grew up or went to college in this region or state, while others came from farther away. All have found their way to this newspaper because they enjoy what they do – most of the time, at least – and believe that it matters.
A certain degree of stability on a local newspaper staff is important to ensure that the people who are explaining the community and region to itself know enough about it to do a good job. When I worked on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a reader steeped in local history told me she didn’t think anyone at a newspaper should write about a community who hadn’t lived there at least a year. I told her it would be nice to have that luxury, but unfortunately we had to put reporters to work as soon as we hired them.
But she had a point. People who sweep in and out of a place and see it primarily as a rung on a career ladder aren’t likely to develop the knowledge of and personal investment in a community or region that make for intelligent and insightful journalism.
As noted, we have some people who’ve been here a while and many others who consider Northeast Mississippi home, even if they don’t plan to stay here forever. They care about getting things right, because they care about what happens in the place they’ve chosen to live and work – whether for a few years or for a lifetime.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.