OPINION: Journal’s past offers a guide for the future

By Lloyd Gray/NEMS Daily Journal

Any business that’s been around for 140 years has demonstrated staying power. The Daily Journal’s origins reach back to 1870, the same year Tupelo received its city charter.
As we’ve noted previously in these pages, we’ll be marking the paper’s 140th anniversary in a variety of ways throughout 2010. We’ll reaffirm our historic roots and legacy as we take a look at our past and that of the city we’ve called home through one full century and portions of two others.
But this won’t be just an exercise in nostalgia, because while we value our heritage, the Daily Journal is more focused on the present and the future than the past. Our history is of little value if it doesn’t inform and shape our contemporary mission.
That mission, to build community and improve the quality of life in Northeast Mississippi, has guided the Journal in its days as a Tupelo weekly, then a twice-weekly, then a regional daily and today as the state’s largest locally owned newspaper. It was more sharply defined and expressed under the 49-year ownership of the late George McLean. It has continued in the 27 years the CREATE Foundation has been our sole stockholder. It’s why we exist today.
There’s another message we want to get out about the future as we review the past, and it’s this: This newspaper isn’t going anywhere. We’ll be around for a long time to come.
Yes, we’ve been through some tough times in the last year or two. But so have a lot of other businesses – including many of those that advertise with us and have been forced to scale back.
But the worst recession in most of our lifetimes and the challenges it brings don’t translate into a death knell for newspapers, as many conventional wisdom proponents – including those in competing media – would have you believe.
A year ago, there was a lot of speculative talk about a big wave of newspapers around the country that would go out of business in 2009. It didn’t happen.
Of course newspapers, like any business that expects to survive and thrive, must change. We know that. We have to be continually mindful of meeting people’s changing needs and interests.
That’s why we’re now posting breaking news every day on our Web site, NEMS360.com, and continually developing new ways to interact with users. It’s why we’re getting more into niche products, like our slick Health Journal magazines and an upcoming Bridal publication.
But branching out into a variety of different media platforms, new and old, is a way of expanding our business, not a signal that the Daily Journal ink-on-newsprint edition is in peril. It gives us a new, broader reach and the ability to do much more with our core competency – gathering and reporting the news and offering attractive audiences for advertisers.
Our readership on the print side remains strong. Our staff, unlike many newspapers, has not been decimated by layoffs. Coupled with our seven weekly newspapers, the Journal’s newsgathering capability remains by far the most expansive in our region.
We’ve begun 2010 by beefing up the number of pages and volume of news on most days after a period in which some scaling back was necessary to control expenses in hard times. We know that producing a high-quality newspaper is the best thing we can do for our long-term growth and profitability, and we’re committed to providing that for our readers.
In 1870, the telephone was not yet invented, much less movies, radio, television and the Internet. Each technological advance in communications has brought predictions of the imminent demise of newspapers. In each case, newspapers adapted, survived and thrived. Obviously the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, but the newspaper – in print and online – will remain viable as long as it retains its relevance and connection to the people it serves.
We at the Daily Journal believe strongly that we’ve got a special connection with the people of Northeast Mississippi after 140 years of mutual commitment and support. We’ve been part of building the community, and the community in turn has given us the wherewithal to continue that mission.
The mission goes on. As we begin 2010, we’re proud of our history, but it’s the future that excites us.

Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.