Newspaper staff rooted in Magnolia State

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When Lynyrd Skynyrd wrote the lyrics to his famous “Sweet Home Alabama” he wasn’t talking to me.

It’s a great song, sure. But the lyrics don’t stir any great sense of down-home pride within me, for obvious reasons — I’m a Mississippi girl.

And believe it or not the overwhelming majority of editors, reporters and photographers that work in The Natchez Democrat’s newsroom could care less about Skynyrd’s anthem as well.

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Contrary to popular belief, our office isn’t full of Alabama natives.

Yes, the company that owns our paper is based in Alabama. And over the years, we’ve had a few Alabamans come through our doors.

But we don’t hire exclusively Alabama residents. In fact, I’d personally rather have Mississippi or Louisiana folks, and I do the newsroom hiring.

When Mayor Phillip West mistakenly referred to our Publisher Kevin Cooper as an Alabama native in a recent Top of the Morning, I decided perhaps we’ve done a poor job of telling our readers about ourselves.

So here goes:

Aside from Kevin, who was raised on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi, the newsroom has seven employees who have no connection to Alabama.

I was raised in Oxford, and graduated from Ole Miss.

News Editor Luke Horton was raised in Decatur, and graduated from Mississippi State University.

Reporter Vershal Hogan was raised in Chodurant, La., attended Louisiana Tech and Louisiana College and married a Vidalia native.

Photographer Marcus Frazier was raised in Natchez and attended the University of Southern Mississippi.

Photographer Destiney Robb was raised in Natchez, attended the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and married a Vidalia native.

Reporter Adam Koob was raised in New Orleans and graduated from the University of New Orleans.

Sports reporter Matt Burrowes was raised in Water Valley and attended Mississippi State University.

And we do have three employees with some Alabama connections.

Web Editor Ben Hillyer was born in North Carolina and has lived in a variety of states — one of which was Alabama. But he graduated from Mississippi State University. He married a woman born and raised in Natchez and has lived here for seven years.

Sports Editor Jeff Edwards was raised in Florence, Ala., but graduated from Mississippi State University.

And the only employee with true Alabama-itis is reporter Katie Stallcup. She was raised in Madison, Ala., and graduated from the University of Alabama.

In my first month of work for The Democrat nearly four years ago, I fielded the “So, I bet you are from Alabama” question countless times.

It’s a harmless question, and I don’t mind answering it. I’ve had several predecessors who were Alabama natives. And since our company owns many newspapers in our fine neighbor to the east, The Democrat does have recruiting contacts there.

But, we recognize the importance of hiring locally. Employees with Miss-Lou connections tend to stay longer, know more and have a head start in their jobs.

Our 10 newsroom employees come from all over the South. We have our college allegiances, just like all of you, and we remember the way things were in our hometown.

But right now, we live in the Miss-Lou. We work in the Miss-Lou. And we care about the Miss-Lou.

So maybe we should change Skynyrd’s lyrics a bit: Sweet Home Natchez.

It’s not very catchy; it won’t sell albums. But to us and most of you, it’s the truth.

Julie Finley is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at or 601-445-3551.