Thursday, June 16, 2005

Fielder’s Choice
By Barry Burleson

MPA’s people

(Note: This week I pass the gavel to the next president of the Mississippi Press Association. Here is a final column I wrote for MPA’s publication, The Fourth Estate.)

The Mississippi Press Association is about the people, the relationships.

That was the case 19 years ago when I first moved to Mississippi and became involved in MPA. It still holds true today.

I remember some of those faces and personalities from my first few conventions – John Emmerich, Mildred Dearman, Jesse Phillips, Gale Denley, Charles Dunagin, Ken Prillhart and the list goes on.

I could see the love for newspapers and the love for MPA in their eyes. I could hear it in their conversations.

If I wasn’t already hooked, I was then.

I never dreamed during those early years of someday being president of this fine association. I had goals, but they usually changed on a daily or weekly basis.

I kept going to conventions and serving on committees, and learning from those with more knowledge.

Then while serving as a young publisher at the Aberdeen Examiner, I was asked to serve on the MPA Board of Directors. It was a special invitation – one I humbly accepted.

It has been a growing and learning process and a very positive experience.

Thank goodness I had some experienced board members take me under their wings – people like Tom Pittman, Jim Lambert, Ed Darling, Tim Kalich, Dan Phillips and Lisa Denley-McNeece – plus longtime MPA executive director Carolyn Wilson.

And, of course, I could still call my mentor in this business, Rubye Del Harden, for advice.

I’ve gained so much from my rather lengthy stay on this board. There’s no better place to learn than from conversations from other editors and publishers, who experience many of the same challenges on a weekly basis.

But most of all, I’ve gained good friends. Where else would I have gotten to know and share good times with folks like Joe Lee, Brooks Taylor, John Carney, Charlie Mitchell, Bill Jacobs, Sid Salter and Patsy Speights?

It’s like a list of who’s who in the newspaper business. They’re some of Mississippi’s best, and their influence on my life has been tremendous.

I started not to mention names. I’m leaving many out. But that’s OK. You know who you are. That’s the great thing about MPA. We’re all friends. We all respect one another. And we all care for one another. We’re a family.

Those relationships have grown and expanded – thanks to my years on the board and particularly this past year as MPA president

I’ve been on the road or in the air quite a bit – from Marks to Denver, Colo., to Collins to Washington, D.C., to Hattiesburg, to Lafayette, La.

I’ve met newspaper people I’d never known. I’ve shared newspaper tales and experiences.

And I’ve learned that we all have one thing in common – a deep love for community journalism.

As for MPA, it is stronger than ever, I believe. And that’s not all about the financial statement. It’s about the people, first and foremost the ones running our office in Jackson. The dedicated staff exemplified true teamwork this past year – pitching in where needed, learning to be more versatile and performing lots of different tasks. They were shorthanded, but they produced and accomplished great things. As my tenure as president comes to end, we are looking to reorganize and add to our capable staff.

Most of all this past year, I appreciate the teamwork and the positive approach.

And as we look ahead, I urge those not involved to get involved in the Mississippi Press Association. You just might get hooked, like I did, and meet some outstanding people along the way.

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