National media circus of no use to newspaper

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Our newspaper’s phone lines were grand central station for gossip “journalists” last week.

After the apparently earth-shattering news that Jamie Lynn Spears was pregnant hit the airwaves it didn’t take long for the name of her 19-year-old boyfriend to be released as well.

And, unfortunately, his name appears in quite a few stories on our Web site.

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It seems young Casey was quite the athlete at Amite School Center from 2004 to 2007, and even before that in Dixie Youth play. Oh, and in 1999 he killed a doe at St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge.

Our Web site is home to bits of worthless trivia about the boy who reportedly slept with Britney Spears’ little sister.

And those bits were enough to catch the eye of the national media, hungry for a story that, in my opinion, isn’t news.

In fact, our newsroom cared so little about the country’s biggest story this week, that we didn’t even understand the first set of phone calls that came through.

It was late Wednesday when I listened to a voicemail forwarded to me from our publisher. A reporter from People Magazine had called him, and he’d forwarded the message on to me, because he had no idea what the guy was talking about.

The reporter — in a very authoritative, all-important sounding voice — said he’d read the story our newspaper had written on the father of Jamie Lynn Spears’ baby.

That was it.

Now, let me stop here and say that I must be a horrible newsperson. At that point Wednesday night, I had no idea who Jamie Lynn Spears was, or why her boyfriend mattered.

I was confused as to why the People reporter thought we’d written a story about someone getting someone pregnant.

Unless it’s triplets or the first baby of the New Year, our newspaper rarely puts the latest pregnancy on the front page.

I called the reporter back, but only got voicemail.

Curiosity started getting to me, and I did a Google search on Jamie Lynn Spears. At that point the news was everywhere. I quickly put the pieces together, found the name Casey Aldridge and typed it into our own Web site’s search engine.


But, what the national journalists didn’t understand was that we don’t know who Casey Aldridge is. He doesn’t live in our town, and we only cover Amite School Center when they play a local team, like WCCA or Trinity.

Fast forward to Friday, and another phone call, this time from the New York Post.

An uppity employee was trying to hire a reporter from our paper to drive to Gloster and track dear Casey down.

She had no evidence that he was actually still in the town. She didn’t have anything specific she wanted us to ask him. And she didn’t understand why we weren’t already covering the story.

But she offered $200 to an “intuitive, energetic young reporter” who could find Casey.

I shared the deal with our staff — warning that they could not do the Casey assignment during Democrat work hours. We had no takers.

Perhaps I’m wrong. Maybe you — The Democrat’s readers — wanted to read about Jamie Lynn and Casey in our newspaper this week. If I’m wrong, tell me.

But, to me, the story is not news. It’s gossip.

Community newspapers should leave that to the gossip hounds at People Magazine. And we’ll keep covering the things that really matter in your community. We’ll tell the stories of your life, not those of the stars.

I am interested to see how little Gloster is coping with their newfound fame. That story might be one worth reporting.

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