Social media is not new to newspaper

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 25, 2010

Every person likes to feel connected to the world around him. It’s human nature.

In the last few years, social media Web sites have become extremely popular as they use technology to help us feel more connected to our “friends” and “followers.”

Today 8-year-olds, pets and grandmothers have Facebook accounts.

A few might even Twitter — except perhaps the dogs.

It is a bit amazing that through a computer you can reach out and almost instantly connect to people you’ve not seen in decades.

But as cool as some of the social media sites are, many people have forgotten something key: It’s not the technology involved, it’s the connections with people that matter most.

A week or so ago, our Web editor Ben Hillyer and I were guests of the Trace City Kiwanis Club.

As part of our talk, we gave an overview of all of the things The Democrat does — including a bit of history and how we use technology today.

After the talk it occurred to me that we’ve been in the social media business since our very earliest days.

The newspaper’s beginning came at the hands of a young man who came to America at age 7 and grew up in Natchez before heading to fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

In 1865, Italian immigrant Paul Botto returned home, simply looking for a way to earn a living in the economically shattered South.

The term social media would not be coined for another 140 years or so.

Botto’s career choice, however, was one of the earliest forms of social media — creating a community newspaper.

In a short time, Botto connected with Capt. James Lambert, also a Civil War veteran. Their partnership launched the newspaper that has informed and entertained generations in our community.

Through the years the managers and owners — even the newspaper’s name — have changed a bit through the years.

Despite the changes, the newspaper has continued to be the original social media of the community.

It’s no surprise that one of the most read sections of the newspaper — in print and online — continues to be the obituaries section.

At the heart of each obituary is the fabric of social connections each person has.

We read obituaries to remind us of these connections.

That’s also why we read the other parts of the newspaper, too, to learn things that are of interest to us and to people like us.

While the technology has changed greatly through the years in both the greater world and the newspaper industry, ultimately people are the same as they were nearly 150 years ago.

We all desperately seek a feeling of being connected to the great big world out there.

Social media Web sites help do that by taking the great big world of the Internet and making it feel more local to us.

Our newsroom folks are finding more and more that social media tools can help them connect to sources that would otherwise be difficult to reach.

Our coverage of the tragic oilrig explosion and fire was a good example of that.

A quick post on The Democrat’s fan page on Facebook connected our reporter to families and friends of locals who were on the rig. Our newsroom was then able to share their stories with our readership.

Technology helps us continue the work that Paul Botto began so many years ago when he first started working to connect the community together through the written word.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or