These were the people whose names I saw in my hometown newspaper every day. They did what I wanted to do so desperately – write for a newspaper. To me, they were awe inspiring.
I soon got my wish. Sure, it was reporting on the Ellisville youth baseball league, but my name still got in the paper. And I got paid for it.
What could be better?
Before I graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, I had done everything for the Leader-Call from being sports editor to writing obits to covering Laurel and Jones County governments.
It did not take long before I got to do the same jobs as those reporters I envied the first time I walked into the Leader-Call as an 18-year-old kid.
It came as a shock to learn earlier this month the Leader-Call was closing. Thankfully, the Laurel Chronicle will be birthed to replace the Leader-Call.
But Laurel – my hometown – will be a little different without the Leader-Call.
The Leader-Call was never blessed with owners who invested heavily in their product. The owners always got much more out of the newspaper and the community than they invested. It was not even close to an even tradeoff.
When I went to work in Tupelo in 1984 – an equivalent-size town at the time – I was astounded by the difference in investment by the Daily Journal ownership and the Leader-Call ownership back into the newspaper.
But that does not mean there were not good journalists who worked in Laurel.
Granted, I was a teenager who had seldom been out of Jones County so my knowledge was limited. Still, looking back, the journalists who taught me at the Leader-Call were top notch.
In those days, newspapers were alone at the top of the communications food chain. There was no Internet, cable television or talk radio. Anybody who wanted to be a journalist wanted to work for a newspaper.
It was hard – real hard – to get a newspaper job.
Most of the journalists I worked with at the Leader-Call were young – not much older than me – and not from Jones County. Most were not from Mississippi.
But they worked hard. And yes, sometimes they played hard.
Ed McGrath was the managing editor. And he could have come out of central casting. There was a certain formality about him – perhaps it just seemed that way to a young kid because he often smoked a pipe in the newsroom. In hindsight he was not that much older than me.
But Ed really knew journalism and displayed incredible patience in dealing with me as did Steve Magner, who advanced from photographer to city editor, then later to managing editor.
If I started naming the other journalists I worked with, I would run the risk of leaving out someone. Even though I have lost touched with almost all of them, and most will never see this, I think the best thing to do is not to mention anyone – except maybe for Ellis Pope.
Ellis, who came from Georgia, was sports editor when it was a two-person staff, and I occupied that second seat. He taught me about journalism and perhaps provided me his version of people skills.
Ellis answered the phone on morning on deadline.
“Ellis,” from my desk, I could hear the woman say on the other end of the phone in a not too pleasant voice.
Ellis listened for a second as the woman complained about the fact we did not cover a woman’s golf tournament that past weekend at the Dixie Golf Club. As mentioned earlier, there were only two of us and my recollection is that we were stretched pretty thin that weekend.
Ellis listened for a second, placed the receiver on his desk and calmly went about the business of getting the sports pages out. The woman continued to talk, never realizing Ellis no longer was listening. I could hear her blaring through the phone receiver that Ellis placed on his desk.
When she finished, he picked up the receiver and told her we would try to do better. Later that day he sent me to the golf course to pick up the results to get them in the next day’s newspaper.
And in those days, a day late was better than not being in the Laurel Leader-Call at all.
Bobby Harrison is Capitol Bureau reporter in Jackson for the Daily Journal. Contact him at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.