Terrell marks 30th anniversary of newspaper

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 18, 2009

NATCHEZ — On any given day William Terrell is out and about in Natchez taking photos, interviewing citizens, stopping at the post office and doing his business’ banking.

That’s because his job as publisher of the Bluff City Post doesn’t mean he just handles office work. He is a one man show in many ways.

And Terrell said having his hand in nearly every part of the business is a blessing, not a curse.

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“It gives me a unique perspective on everything,” Terrell said. “I understand how each side works and how they work together.”

And thanks to the hard work of Terrell, and the publishers that preceded him, The Bluff City Post, a newspaper that focuses on the black community in the Miss-Lou, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.

The newspaper opened its doors for the first time on Dec. 28, 1978, under the leadership of Theodore Johnson, Alex Green and Terrell.

“I was much younger than the other two founders,” he said. “I guess I didn’t know any better at that point.”

Johnson, a newspaper veteran, was looking for a vehicle to spread the news from the black community when the idea of starting the Bluff City Post was born.

The newspaper’s original office was in the King David Grand Lodge where Johnson had the position of secretary.

Having that position turned out to be a fortunate occurrence in the history of the paper, Terrell said.

“We were able to run our office out of there and not have to pay any rent,” Terrell said. “Secretary was the second highest position, and Mr. Johnson knew how to work that.”

The newspaper operated rent-free for several years before moving to their current Franklin Street.

“We’ve been here for over 22 years,” Terrell said.

And in the past 30 years a lot has changed in the way the paper operates. One of the biggest changes has been the progression in the technology used to actually assemble the paper

“We started out doing everything and eventually moved to a Compugraph,” Terrell said. “Now everything is done on the computer.”

And though the way the news gets on the page may have changed through the years, the goal has been the same since day one.

“We want to cover the news that is important in the community that people might no be getting elsewhere,” Terrell said. “We want to provide a voice.”

And Terrell said he feels the paper has been successful at doing just that.

“I’m just glad that we have been accepted as a viable news source in the community,” he said. “That is probably our biggest accomplishment — acceptance.”

Terrell said professional memberships in the Mississippi Press Association and the Louisiana Black Publishers Association as industry acceptance.

He also cites a rise in reader interest and subscribers as proof of the newspaper’s acceptance in the community.

“We started out with 200 subscribers because that is what we had to have to get a bulk rate at the post office,” he said. “Now we have much more than that and from all over the United States.”

Many of the newspaper’s subscribers have never even lived in the Miss-Lou, Terrell said.

Word of mouth has been one of the biggest tools used to spread the newspaper and its mission.

Terrell said The Bluff City Post has one subscriber who takes a copy of the newspaper with him when he travels.

“He will show whoever he is visiting the paper and ask them if they like it,” Terrell said. “If they do, he purchases them a subscription for a year.

“Its up to them to pay the renewal, but for at least one year they get our paper.”

But Terrell couldn’t get the news out by himself. He depends on the hard work and dedication of his staff which is made up of many of his family members.

The office manager, Flora Terrell, is also his wife. She handles the bill payment and other organizational issues.

Juanita Jones, Terrell’s sister-in-law is the editor. Terrell said she goes over each piece of information in the paper with a “fine too comb.”

“She’s a perfectionist,” Terrell said.

Danielle Terrell, Terrell’s daughter, works at the library at Alcorn State University, but comes to the newspaper office to “assist in anyway she can,” Terrell said.

Albert Jones, his brother-in-law, is a photographer for the newspaper. Terrell said he works professionally as a photographer and carries that professional attitude over to his newspaper assignments.

“He stays until he gets it right,” Terrell said.

And like the publishers before him, Terrell knows he and his staff must stay on top of his game to continue operating a viable newspaper.

“The overall quality of our paper has improved over the years with the type of information we are putting in it,” Terrell said. “But we have to continue to improve and look for other ways to draw reader interest.”

Terrell said future changes could be the inclusion of sports information, because it has wide reader appeal.

“That’s what a lot of black men and women do. They will flip to the sports page first and scan that, and then read the front,” he said. “They will read the front page first but they always look at sports first.

But sports page or not, Terrell thinks the Bluff City Post is doing OK.

“There are cities that are larger than Natchez that don’t have a paper that caters to news from the African American population the way we do,” Terrell said. “The fact that we have remained for as long as we have speaks highly for what we are doing.”