On Jan. 3, 2000, I had the honor of becoming a reporter for my hometown newspaper, The Mississippi Press, and I cherish the many friends and memories I had there for more than nine years. Editor Dan Davis assigned me to the George County Bureau in Lucedale, where I covered a newly-elected county administration from the board of supervisors to sheriff.
Donna Manning Campbell, the “Queen of Ledes,” was on top of The Community Press, the Press’ weekly supplement for George and Greene Counties, and Sandy McWilliams sold ads like nobody’s business. Covering the “harder news” in George County was much like the environment I had experienced for four years as editor of the weekly Smith County Reformer in Raleigh, Miss. I threw in everything but the kitchen sink in my first board of supervisors article I sent remotely to the Pascagoula newsroom. City Editor Regina Hines, in her quiet but strong grandmotherly tone, said, “Uh, Brad, we don’t need to know everything they did, just the big stuff.”
Going from a weekly to a daily grind was new to me, and I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I had to present my ID to a security guard and sign-in if I wanted to access the Pascagoula newsroom at 3 a.m. My hometown paper was the real deal.
A memorable moment during my two years in George County was calling Dan on a Friday night at around 8 p.m. and telling him that an elected official had been arrested by U.S. Marshals while awaiting a verdict during a civil trial in federal court in Gulfport. He literally yelled, “Stop the presses!” I knew that page redesign and replating cost thousands of dollars every minute past the scheduled press run, but we had the scoop and The Associated Press was looking for more the very next day. “Read about it in tomorrow’s paper,” I told AP reps.
When I got the coveted City of Pascagoula beat, I took it seriously and loved being in that full newsroom epicenter of where it all went down on Delmas Avenue, where the rumbling trains and those very presses Dan ordered stopped shook the old building. Upon hearing the recent news of The Mississippi Press running its final issue, countless memories of the great people I got to work with – news, advertising, circulation, accounting and all departments in-between – are innumerable to mention here.
Like many people, I read Old Crab first, and loved watching Chuck Brooks cleverly devise the concise prose of The Press’ beloved icon’s take on local and national affairs, and the storm created when someone proposed doing away with Old Crab.
Because every editor begged me to “write tighter” – an impossible feat for me – I’ll provide snapshots. I know I can’t remember every article nor everyone, but they know who they are.
- Kelly, Will.I.Am, Christy, Carissa, Helene, all the talented, artistic, award-winning photogs I worked with, the rock stars.
- Territorial reporters fiercely safeguarding their respective beats, including yours truly, especially my Goula-Moss Point rivalry with Natalie Chambers.
- Covering the execution of Jessie Derrell Williams at Parchman with John Surratt, only to be barely above the fold on the front page after the paper ran an editorial calling for Trent Lott to step down as U.S. Senate Majority Leader.
- Being accosted at Beach Park covering “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign when it was leaked that hours before our editorial board had endorsed Ronnie Musgrove over Haley Barbour for governor. “It wasn’t me,” didn’t fly with the locals.
- Lici Beveridge handing off the 3 Doors Down beat when she began working for The Hattiesburg American, and being able to cover all the great local bands at the time was such a treat for me.
- Police Chief Mike Whitmore calling in the National Guard after Hurricane Katrina, emphatically telling me, “No, Pascagoula is not open for business” for would-be looters.
- My friend, the late Mayor Matthew Avara, demanding President George W. Bush visit Goula post-Katrina because “our people are hurting.” Matthew said W. put him on the spot during a closed-door meeting with officials at Chevron, but it seemed to work.
Katrina devastated my hometown, and I could sense the demise of my hometown paper coming, moving from the ruined Delmas headquarters to Jackson Avenue and eventually leaving The Flagship City for good. My lifelong friend Phil Killingsworth sent me a picture in the Newseum in Washington, D.C. of the front page of the issue the day after Katrina with my article titled “Beach Boulevard is No More” and other life-changing Katrina-related news we would write about every day for the next two years easily.
I’ll forever cherish the memories and friendships I made during my nine years at The Mississippi Press, the paper where Pulitzer Prize recipient Ira Harkey served as editor and Jerry St. Pe cut his journalistic teeth. I proudly display in my city office – now in my 14th year — a plaque the Pascagoula City Council presented me the last council meeting I covered after the Mobile-Register editors in charge took the Pascagoula beat away from me because no reporter should have the same beat for more than six years, let alone getting “awards” from government. “What can I tell ya. It’s my hometown and my hometown paper” was my defense.
Having thousands of articles and hundreds of photographs for The Mississippi Press published in my name preserved is an honor I’ll take to my grave. It’s indeed a sad day but I treasure everyone I encountered at our paper and everything I learned. Although this is wordy-wordy – surprise – I hope to put it all down in print, leaving no person or memory behind.
Being a Goula boy, I’ll forever be proud that I was part of The Press’ history and pray that I made a positive impact with the people I worked with and the incredible people and events I wrote about. As our great buddy Old Crab might say, “It was a dadburn great ride, y’all!”