News makers sometimes aren’t the worthy ones

Published 9:11 am Friday, May 25, 2007

When I started working for The Natchez Democrat seven years ago, I quickly learned one thing.

It doesn’t matter how good the stories are or how provocative the front page photo is, as long as there are obituaries the paper is great.

It is the most popular section of the newspaper. Nothing compares to it — not the front page, not the sports page.

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The comics page may be the one section in the paper that comes closest in terms of reader loyalty.

But if an obituary ends prematurely or a name is misspelled, it is almost a 100 percent guarantee that the phones will be ringing before I get to work in the morning.

In the past couple of weeks, as I have watched Binkey headline after Binkey headline written in large bold type across the front page, I have begun to appreciate the small, quiet type of our obituaries page.

Every day our front pages are filled with news about people making headlines who do extraordinary things, both good and bad. Yet, the stories in the obits are the real record of our community.

In recent months, I have been working to develop The Natchez Democrat’s new Web site. Part of the process in designing the site has been to review our current Internet offerings.

For someone who has just recently become an avid reader of page 5A in our paper, it was surprising to look at the statistics for our online content.

With the exception of the homepage, the most read section of is the obituaries. Nothing comes close.

Take March’s numbers for example. Nearly 1 million pages were viewed by our online readers. The homepage was visited 161,000 times that month. Of the remaining 800,000 pages, obituaries out ranked every other section and story 15 to 1.

I am sure that you would find similar statistics with our print edition.

So while politicians and judges vie for position on the outside pages, it is good to know that the stories of hard working, mostly honest people make up the heart of the newspaper.

Look at who is in today’s edition.

There is Cammie Burlison Holland. At the age of 75, Holland traveled to the Holy Land where she was baptized in the Sea of Galilee — a place that I have always wanted to visit.

What an extraordinary life she must have led with her husband of 44 years, eight children, 19 grandchildren, 33 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

She died Wednesday at the age of 95.

Then there is Courtney Scott McGuffee. In her short 21 years, McGuffee had made a name for herself not only in her field of early childhood education but also as the 2006 Louisiana Tech Homecoming Queen.

Born in Natchez, McGuffe participated fully in her college life as a member of Phi Mu sorority and as a school orientation leader.

A life cut short in a car accident, McGuffie clearly had her sights set on a bright future.

Then there is Aaron “Pee Wee” Grover who drove a truck for Southwest Distributors all across the Miss-Lou and Nell Yarborough Haire who was known for her beautiful and spirit-filled flower arrangements from her garden.

Marlene Ratcliff Caldwell devoted most of her life to caring for others as a certified nursing assistant and a home health nurse. Mable Dorease Scott Proffitt set an example for all of us with her lovely yard and immaculate home.

Each day, the paper is filled with such stories.

Few of these people ever made the front page.

So, if you are tired of reading about Binkey or the Pecan Factory, go to page 5A and read a few stories about real people not looking to make the headlines — only trying to make a life.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or