I just returned from the 155th meeting of the Mississippi Press Association (MPA) held at the Golden Nugget in Biloxi.
It was great to attend. Last year was the first time in MPA history that we did not have an annual convention. Apparently the Spanish Flu didn’t stop the show a hundred years ago even though that pandemic was much worse. We’re either wimpier or more responsive, not sure which.
It’s a pleasure to report that Emmerich Newspapers won 42 percent of all the editorial awards in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest. We won 203 out of the total 480 awards given, including eight out of the 19 “General Excellence” awards.
This is nothing new. Emmerich Newspapers typically dominates the awards. Numerous years we have won the top award for “General Excellence” in every category in which we compete, which is most of them.
This year the Greenwood Commonwealth won first place in “General Excellence” among the small daily newspapers. This is nothing new. The Commonwealth wins first place many, if not most, years. Editor and publisher Tim Kalich is one of the best journalists in the state of Mississippi. Many of his editorials run in the Northside Sun.
The Columbian-Progress won first place in General Excellence in the large weekly division. They have won this award countless times.
The Charleston Sun-Sentinel won first place in General Excellence in the small weekly category. Publishers Clay and Krista McFerrin are a husband-wife team. They win first place nearly every year.
Another husband-wife team, Jason and Jamie Patterson with the Yazoo Herald won the Bill Minor Award for Investigative Journalism, one of the most prestigious awards. Between the two of them, they have won the Bill Minor Award six times. Nobody else even comes close. Jamie and Jason have won 90 first-place awards.
I remember as a young child walking into my grandfather’s newspaper building for the first time. I was mesmerized by the entire wall filled with first place awards. Now the Northside Sun’s entrance way wall is covered with 140 first place plaques. We’ve run out of room to hang them.
I asked all the publishers to send me historical statistics on their awards. There is no way I could publish them all. But this email from Tim Beeland, longtime publisher of the Scott County Times, is typical:
The Scott County Times has 63 overall first place newspaper awards currently on our walls. That does not include individual awards of former employees that they took with them.We have won General Excellence five times and the Dan Phillips Freedom of Information award once. Personally I have 45 first place awards on my office wall, seven of those for column writing, and a couple hundred second, third and honorable mention certificates in my desk. So that’s a total of 108 firsts.
One special award is the J. Oliver Emmerich Award for Editorial Excellence. It is given each year for the single best editorial published in the state. You must first win your newspaper’s “Best Editorials” category to be eligible. The single best editorial is then chosen from those finalists.
The award is named after my grandfather, who at the time of his death was considered the dean of Mississippi editorial writers. He was a Ronald Reagan conservative, but is featured in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum for his courageous editorials during Mississippi’s Long Hot Summer in the early 1960s.
Almost every newspaper publisher who stood up for what was right back then was eventually run out of town. Oliver was the exception and he continued to lead McComb through his vision up until his death in 1978. He never retired.
The Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in his yard the day his mother died. Weeks later the head of the McComb Klan made a personal trip to Oliver’s newspaper office to apologize. “We’re so sorry, Oliver, we had know idea your mother had just died that day.”
Oliver’s son, John O. Emmerich Jr., my father, won the J. Oliver Emmerich Editorial Excellence Award in 1981. He was the fifth recipient of the award. He won it again in 1987.
I won the award in 1996, one year after my father’s death. I would have loved for him to see me get this award.
The next year, 1997, I handed the award to the new winner, Tim Kalich, who succeeded my father as editor and publisher of the Greenwood Commonwealth. Tim was my father’s protege and has since become an indispensable colleague. I know my father would have felt just as much pride in seeing Tim win the award as he would have me.
I won the award before Tim but he has long since passed me by. Tim has now won the award a record-breaking six times, including three years in a row. Nobody else has come close. Long-time editor of the Tupelo Journal, Lloyd Gray, won three times in a row.
I won the award during Covid. If it had not been for that horrible virus, I would have been handed the award from Tim 26 years after he was handed the award from me. It would have been a beautiful moment that was not to be.
Other two time Emmerich award winners include Jack Ryan, another indispensable colleague, who has been editor and publisher of the McComb Enterprise-Journal for the last 20 years or so. Jack’s editorials also appear frequently in the Northside Sun and many other Emmerich newspapers throughout Mississippi. Their editorials exert significant influence on the political actions of our state leaders.
Ray Mosby, editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot, won this year. He is a two-time winner. Other two-time winners are Philadelphia’s Jim Prince, columnist and former Scott County Times publisher Sid Salter, former Clarksdale Press Register editor Joe Ellis and former Clarion-Ledger editorial writer Jim Ewing.
It’s true the MPA Better Newspaper Contest does indeed make a lot of awards, but not in comparison to the tens of thousands of articles, editorials, photos, columns and investigations that are done throughout a single calendar year.
This work is typically done with little staffing, not much money and powered by an amazing commitment by a handful of writers and editors to report the truth. This is journalism in the trenches and the body of work forms 90 percent of what we consider “news” in our country.
Facebook doesn’t produce this. Google doesn’t produce it. Twitter doesn’t produce it. Indeed, most of these platforms just glom off the real work of the newspaper industry, retransmitting our work without compensation and in turn enriching themselves from the sweat of our brow. It’s just not right.
I’m not sure about the future of the news industry. I would be kidding you if I didn’t admit we are all struggling to survive in this new world. My company is working overtime to adapt and we have some very exciting innovations in the works. Finally, powerful tools have filtered down to us and our web stats are exploding.
But I know this: What we do is vitally important to our society and our country. Yet we’ve lost half the professional journalists in just 20 years. Let’s pray the news industry finds a way to survive. We’ve already had a glimpse of the alternative.