BACK IN THE SADDLE: Longtime local columnist makes return to print

By ELIJAH JONES,

I love newspapers, and always have.  The first time my parents took my siblings and me up north was to visit our family in Detroit, back in 1972. Detroit was a Midwest economic powerhouse in those days.

We were visiting our cousin, Evans, his family and a host of other relatives who lived in Detroit. Cousin Evans (and we always addressed him with the "Cousin" title) worked for Chrysler Corporation and loved his Detroit.  

The city had two major daily newspapers, The Detroit News and The Detroit Free Press.  Cousin Evans had The Free Press delivered to his home. 

After the grownups finished reading, it was my turn. I was only 15 years old but, even then, loved thumbing through a city's newspaper. I remember my mother telling me how impressed Cousin Evans was with the way I read the newspaper every day.

I wasn't so much reading the news though, as I was looking at the ads, seeing which department stores, shopping malls, supermarkets and other businesses were there in Detroit.  

I also loved the movie ads, mainly to see how many theaters the city had. And, of course, I read the comics. Hey, I was still a teenager.

For me, a newspaper told me so much about a city. And if it were a city I'd never visited, as was the case with Detroit, the daily newspaper was the best way for me to discover what that city was all about.  

Way back in the 1960s, my mother had The Hattiesburg American delivered to our little house on Fairley Street on the east side of town. 

She and lots of folks called it simply "the paper." I looked forward to reading it as much as my mother, combing through it daily and, as I got older, paying as much attention to actual news as I did the comics.  

Okay, I did read Ann Landers every day, too.  

Fast forward to 1982, the year I packed my bags, left Hattiesburg and moved to  Los Angeles. There The Los Angeles Times became my daily must-read. 

I worked from my boss's home, so the Times was waiting for me when I arrived, to read with my morning coffee, before the workday began in earnest. 

Boy, how time flies. I returned to Hattiesburg in 1994, and 25 years later, here in 2019, the newspapers of my youth sure have changed, or in some cases, disappeared altogether.  

Some newspapers have become victims of the technology age. These days, more and more people are turning to a desktop, laptop, tablet, or even a smartphone to get their daily dose of the latest news.  I'll admit, I do get some news from the Internet and other E-sources. But call me old-school; I don't think electronic devices will ever match the intimacy of those daily newspapers. 

I still prefer holding that print newspaper in my hands.  

Many of you may recognize my name from the editorial missives, and I've written many over the years, for The American back when it was a daily newspaper.

Well, the paper was published only six days a week when I was a kid but I remember when a Sunday edition was added to the print schedule. I was so excited when Hattiesburg actually started having a Sunday paper.  

Over the years, the newspaper was kind enough to publish dozens of my columns. They ranged on everything from the outcome of the O.J. Simpson trial, to the death of pop star Michael Jackson, to the contentious battle, 20 years ago, over the 2% percent restaurant and lodging tax used to help fund and build-out the Hattiesburg Lake Terrace Convention Center. 

Every one of my columns, be the subject a national issue or local one, I wrote from the heart.  

Those columns of local concern were among my most passionate.  That's because I care so much about this city I call home.

Today, many big-city newspapers have shrunk in size, eliminated staff, gone to less-than-daily publication and are, literally, shadows of their former selves.  

I visit Los Angeles (my second hometown) often and can't help but notice how the once-mighty Los Angeles Times has shrunk in size and coverage.  

Even its beautiful landmark building in downtown Los Angeles has been abandoned, as The Times moved to smaller, suburban digs. I guess they didn't need as much room for staff.  

Especially near and dear to my heart is the opinion page, the heartbeat of any newspaper and, by extension, of the community it serves.  

Sadly, The Hattiesburg American has altogether given up on efforts at local commentary.  

Having reduced its publication schedule from daily to just three days a week, Sunday is the only day where there's an opinion section and, sadly,  most columns are syndicated, focusing on national issues.  

State-oriented opinions that do appear, more often than not, are simply a replay from that same Sunday's edition of its sister publication, the Gannett Corporation-owned newspaper in Jackson.  

Speaking of opinion then, this would be mine.  

This publication you're reading now has worked tirelessly to fill the void left by our city's once-proud daily newspaper.  

It is packed with local news, sports and entertainment coverage for our city and region.  

In fact, I'd say The PineBelt NEWS has quietly become the newspaper of record for the city of Hattiesburg and for all of the Pine Belt. 

Now, for why I'm here.

I've been invited by The PineBelt NEWS to take a shot at becoming a contributing columnist to this publication. I'm excited about joining their team.  

In the past, my local columns didn't appear on a regular basis.  

I might run into someone around town and they'd observe, "I haven't seen one of your columns in the paper lately." 

I'd always reply, "I write only when there's something I just can't keep my mouth shut about." 

Well, that'll still be the case, except now I'll get to write on a regular schedule. 

Beginning with this issue, my columns will appear every other week, here on the pages of The PineBelt NEWS. I'm betting there'll  be plenty I won't be able to keep my mouth shut about.

I guess I'm now officially (again) a newspaper columnist and I’m looking forward to this latest adventure in my life.  

I'm hoping you'll join me twice a month, here on the pages of The PineBelt NEWS. 

My Cousin Evans and my mother would be proud, after all these years, 

I'm not just reading but am now writing for – the paper!

See you in two weeks. 

 

Elijah Jones is a proud Hattiesburg native who enjoys writing in his spare time. Email him at: edjhubtown@aol.com