LEADER marks 118 years of serving community

Published 6:00 am Monday, February 26, 2001

There was a monumental 118th birthday on Thursday. There were noparty hats and balloons nor a cake with candles. There were no hugsand kisses or pats on the back. There were no presents exchanged orchoruses of “Happy Birthday” sung. Busy schedules and a remodelingproject did not allow for time for celebration.

It was Feb. 22, 1883, on a wintry day a young fiery editor namedBenjamin Turner Hobbs rolled the first copy of his weeklyBROOKHAVEN LEADER off the press. Today, 118 years later, thepresses are still rolling and the DAILY LEADER continues to serveover 18,000 readers in a five-county area of southwestMississippi.

B.T. Hobbs’ newspaper was built on a tradition that is becomingrare in this day of mega-mergers, chains and conglomerates. Hebuilt a newspaper which reflected the varied interests of the localcommunity. He put those interests as his top priority.

In that tradition of building a better community, The DAILYLEADER continues today, but as a slowly-dying breed of family- orindependently-owned daily newspapers. (No, newspapers are not adying institution, just the independent ownership). In Mississippionly six family-owned daily newspapers currently remain and thereare less than 250 across the nation.

Most community daily newspapers are now owned by chains such asGannett, which owns the Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and othernewspapers around the state. Chains have the financial strengthover the independents to survive the ever-increasing personnel andproduction costs and are slowly grabbing up the remaining ones. Andyes, we have been approached many, many times.

While those chain newspapers claim to have their communities’interests at heart, profit margins are the first priority. A chaineditor cannot touch the flavor of a locally-owned newspaper whoseheart and soul are the community in which the owner lives.

B.T. Hobbs was a fiery editor who had strong convictions andrefused to give into threats and intimidation by those whodisagreed with his opinion. And he had many strong opinions!

His grandson, the late Henry Ware Hobbs wrote in our 100thanniversary edition of B.T.’s many journalistic crusades and theresulting backlash they sometimes brought. The most memorableevents include, his being shot or shot at, more than once; beingbeaten and left for dead; having his newspaper plant threatenedwith burning; and his being burned in effigy at a publicmeeting!

Hopefully, those days have long since passed.

However, I do remember from the late 50s and 60s thename-calling, threats and cross burnings my father endured. Oh,there are still a few threats periodically, for we have had ourshare of anonymous late night phone calls and hate mail over theyears.

It was not, however, until I was getting to know my soon-to-befather and mother in-law and saw their reaction to my story of thegun my father once slept with that I realized the life of anewspaper family is a bit different than the norm.

There are easier vocations with less stress and more monetaryreward. However, there is nothing more rewarding than watching acommunity respond to editorials and news coverage. Like theexcitement a school teacher feels when a student finally grasps anew concept, it is exciting for us to watch readers tear through anewspaper looking for a picture or story; or hearing from someonewho had the courage to stand up for a cause and used ourletters-to-the-editor space to express their opinion.

Those feelings of satisfaction help overcome the frustration orsadness we each experience when we have to report a tragedy orother item someone would rather we not.

But that is the life of a community newspaper, where credibilityand fairness require us to print the good as well as the bad.

For 118 years nothing has been more important for this newspaperthan the communities we reach. Our life blood is the thousands ofdedicated readers we serve.

Thanks to each of you for allowing us to serve you for the past118 years and hopefully for 118 more. And a special thanks to ourdedicated 52 staff members as well as our 30-plus independentcarriers who work countless hours six days-a-week writing,producing and delivering this newspaper for the communities theylove.