By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal
I walked into a newsroom for the first time 40 years ago this week. Through a door a few steps away, ancient linotype machines clackity-clacked as operators created lines of hot lead type out of words written on yellow copy paper by reporters working on manual typewriters. The typesetters had to decipher the red pen marks of editors who had scribbled in their changes.
That newsroom, a collection of messy, beat-up metal desks, piles of old newspapers and decrepit rolling chairs reeked of cigarette smoke and rubber cement. People barked at each other with an odd mixture of orneriness and amiability. It was busy, noisy, controlled chaos.
I knew I was in a different world, and from that day forward, it was a world that would shape my life.
Newspaper newsrooms aren’t the same now. The cigarette smoke and the glue pots are gone. The desks are a little nicer and neater, though not by too much. The noise is less, owing to the lower volume of computer typing and the absence of the loud and steady beat of the old wire service machines.
And of course, the technology of print production has changed dramatically, not to mention the revolution unleashed by the advent of digital publication.
That first glimpse of a newsroom was in 1970, and the technology of newspaper publication wasn’t a whole lot different then than it had been in 1870, the year the newspaper you are reading was born. It would undergo a sea change from the 1970s on.
But with all the changes, there’s a constant: Newsrooms are about news, about getting the story, about giving readers what they need and what they want. That’s what still draws people, young and not-so-young, to work in them.
In a broader sense, it’s about the stories that taken together make the community what it is. It’s not just about individual stories, but the ongoing narrative of a place – its good times and bad, its triumphs and tribulations, the themes of its collective life.
Each year I attend the Mississippi Press Association convention where newspaper people gather to discuss their own ongoing narrative. This year we met with the Tennessee and Arkansas groups, too.
Newspaper people in Mississippi are a community of sorts, and like the communities we cover, we commiserate over our challenges and celebrate our achievements. This year, the message was clear: We’ve been through some tough times, but we’re going to come out of them stronger and more committed than ever to serving the readers and communities that rely on us.
Contrary to what you may have heard, newspapers are here to stay for the long haul – in print and on the Web. All the predictions of mass closings in recent years simply haven’t come to pass.
This is particularly true of community newspapers, and notably this one. Our newspaper has grown its circulation seven of the last nine years.
The Daily Journal is celebrating 140 years of history this year. That means we’re doing a lot of reminiscing about the past, including those old front pages we’ve been running each Thursday, and a special section scheduled for next Sunday tracing the Journal’s history in parallel to Tupelo’s.
But don’t get the wrong impression: We’re mindful of our heritage and proud of it, but we’re focused on the present and future. We’re making major investments in both the print and online side of our business, and we’re confident that we’ll continue to grow with Northeast Mississippi.
Not long after I took that part-time newspaper job as a 16-year-old in Meridian, I heard people talking about the imminent demise of newspapers. Television, then little more than a decade into its firm entrenchment in American households, was going to be the culprit. Earlier, radio was supposed to write the obituary of newspapers, and later television was supposed to kill off radio.
In the 1980s, the advent of CNN and round-the-clock cable news was to be the death knell of newspapers, we were told. And now, of course, it’s the Internet.
Newspapers have been changing and adapting, and will continue to do so. Digital will be a big part of our efforts in the future.
But ink on newsprint is going to be with us for a long time to come, as long as we stay connected and responsive to our communities. That’s our story – and our ongoing narrative.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or firstname.lastname@example.org.