Once upon a time, many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, there existed a thing called the newspaper. It was a publication that came in broadsheet format, delivered to humans’ doorsteps daily. These curious artifacts contained from 30-70 pages of up-to-date news stories, incisive features, and voluminous coverage of local sports. Ah, newspapers, how we miss thee.
OK, the above paragraph is a bit overstated and contains a heavy dose of hyperbole. We still have newspapers (a few, anyway), and there are other news sources online in our current digital age. But some of us don’t have to like the present-day set-up, and long for the days when we could get ahold of (literally) coverage of local news in a traditional fashion.
That’s where the theme of this column comes to the fore. Pascagoula has had a rich history of journalism and local newspapers. The publications themselves may have faded away, but Our Mississippi Home is doing its damnedest to replicate what was once a wonderful source of local information.
In the case of OMH, one excellent connection to the glorious journalistic past is the fact that our staff of writers includes several folks who worked for our print predecessors. So, let’s take a brief look at our history in that regard, as well as the bridge of talent to the present.
The first iteration of a local newspaper her in town was the Pascagoula Democrat Star, which began in 1878. The name was changed to The Chronicle-Star in 1920, and, from 1941-1957, carried the subtitle of The Moss Point Advertiser. From 1957-1966, the masthead read simply The Chronicle.
The Chronicle-Star/Chronicle was the first newspaper of my youth, and also provided my first job. In 1963, I wrote a letter to the paper’s editor, Ira Harkey, who had just won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the James Meredith story, asking him for a position as a sports correspondent. Probably against his better judgment, he hired me.
Thus, at age 14, I started a career that would always involve some form of writing. I covered local baseball leagues and occasionally high school sports. My pay was 12 and a half cents per column inch I produced (now you see why my columns can occasionally get a bit long). I loved it, and learned a ton from that four years of experience.
You might recognize the name of a young reporter The Chronicle had hired in 1958: Jerry St. Pe’.
“The Chronicle office was what I envisioned a small town newspaper to be,” wrote Jerry in his memoir, On Eagles’ Wings. “Physically, it had stature: a sturdy red brick building, trimmed in white, with the words, The Chronicle, gold-leaf inscribed in Old-English type on the glass door front entrance. The style somehow heralded the quality of the product created inside—a newspaper that was reliable, creditable, dependable, reassuring.”
Mr. St. Pe’ went on to become a real star for The Chronicle, covering all of Jackson County and winning awards with his writing and photography. In 1961, he was hired by Ingalls Shipbuilding to work in public relations, and the rest, as they say, is history. Jerry St. Pe’ went on to become the ultra-successful president of Ingalls and a tremendous community leader, which he remains to this day.
In 1964, The Mobile Press Register began The Mississippi Press as competition for The Chronicle, and the two combined into one publication in 1966. The Mississippi Press flourished until 2008, when it became a four page wraparound for The Mobile Press Register a few days a week, following the footsteps of many local papers across the country in down-sizing.
Considering the shift in how news was being delivered and consumed, Pascagoula entrepreneur Jamey Foster had the foresight to start Jackson County Home in 2017, which soon morphed into Our Mississippi Home. Admitting bias as a featured columnist, I would submit to you that Our Mississippi Home is now the closest thing we have in Jackson County to a local news service.
One of the reasons OMH has been successful is the cadre of writers Jamey has been able to recruit. The roster includes a significant number of professionals who once wrote for The Mississippi Press:
- Mimi Bosarge
- Toni Kraft
- Nancy Jo Maples
- Amber Craig Mason
- Curtis Rockwell
- April Havens Stennett
- Cherie Ward
Here is a sampling of comments from that robust group of auteurs, years at The Mississippi Press noted:
- Nancy Jo Maples (1988-2000)
“I was the youngest news reporter on staff when Editor Gary Holland took a chance and hired me. I was surrounded by seasoned journalists who took me under their wings and were always willing to help me, folks like Mr. Holland, Gloria Moore, Don Broadas, Regina Hines Ellison, Ann Peck, Tom Donnelly, and Judy Johnson.
“Back then, it was real journalism. Reporters sat in on court hearing, trials, government boards, and public meetings. The Mississippi Press was built on local coverage, centered on the people and happenings of our local counties.
“I’m so glad our community now has a publication like Our Mississippi Home that shares stories about our people and places, and keeps us informed about events and activities. I’m grateful to be a part of it.”
- Cherie Ward (2003-2013)
“I began at The Press writing feature-length stories about intriguing and positive people throughout our community. I loved doing that—it was, and still is, my passion. Eventually, I changed positions to hard news. I can tell you at least one story about every politician throughout our state.
“I loved every second I spent at The Mississippi Press. In a sense, we were an extended family. There was always a seasoned writer or editor to laugh and tell you what you were doing or going through was nothing out of the ordinary.
“I adored my coworkers, but my heart was being out and about in the community. Jackson County is bursting with the best, most hardworking people on the planet, who all have a story to tell. Now, I get to help tell those stories for Our Mississippi Home.”
- April Havens Stennett (2008-2015)
“I had a wonderful seven years at The Mississippi Press of getting to know the Jackson County community better, having grown up in George County. My main beat was business/shipbuilding, although I covered everything from crime to features.
“After I transitioned to my current job with the City of Gautier, I began to miss my hands-on connection to the broader community. I had always considered it a blessing to be able to tell people’s stories, and it was truly special being welcomed into our readers’ homes and businesses.
“ When I began freelancing for Our Mississippi Home, it felt great to be working again with all the community organizations and local personalities. It was actually even better this time around, because OMH focuses on the good that people are doing every day in our community.”
Ah, so well said by those fine writers, all of whom I had the pleasure of working with in my position with Singing River Health System. Hearing their stories brought back memories for me as well. Back in the day, before digital/electronics pretty much took over, PR folks and members of the media had actual person-to-person relationships.
I spent many hours down at The Mississippi Press building, meeting with editors and reporters. I go far enough back to when the newsroom was quite the colorful place—a haze of cigarette smoke, the occasional bottle in a desk drawer, guys in the print room in green plastic visors—all of the so-called “ink-stained wretches.” I always had great respect for these hard-working professionals who brought us the news of the local world. We had the occasional dust-up, but for the most part, it was a great give-and-take relationship.
Now, thanks to our staff and sponsors like Chevron and others, we have Our Mississippi Home to fulfill the role that our writers described above. Let’s call on Jerry St. Pe’ to put the transition of how we receive our local news into perspective:
“While keeping our eye on the road ahead allows us stay focused on the future, an occasional ‘look back’ reminds us of the road map that led us to successes and achievement. Our Mississippi Home provides that enjoyable road map!”