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What story is community telling today?

In the printed edition of today’s newspaper, you’ll find a labor of love — Profile 2011.

The latest version carries on a tradition that has lasted some 40 years at The Natchez Democrat.

Each February, the newspaper publishes Profile, its largest special section of the year.

Inside you’ll find several hundred “stories” from our community, told through traditional feature story work as well as photographs and even advertising.

Some people might pause on the idea that advertising tells stories. Reporters and writers might certainly pause on that statement.

But it’s true. It’s storytelling in a difference light, but it’s still storytelling.

Looking back through the years and years of our past Profile efforts, a viewer can literally “see” the changes in our community through the advertisements.

Some of those changes are good ones, some not so good. Others are bittersweet.

Of course the most noticeable changes are the styles of the day. The 1970s and 1980s styles — in both clothing and hair — are instantly “dated” looking to our more modern eyes.

It’s also fun to look through the photographs in advertisements and see if you can spot a younger version of someone you know today.

Turning through the pages of an early 1980s copy of Profile, one can clearly see the impact of the petroleum industry in the area then.

Oil and gas exploration and production are still important to our community today, but perhaps a combination of pricing changes, consolidation or closure of smaller businesses have made the industry much less widespread and visible today.

Images on the pages remind us all of what is no longer in our community, too.

Large ads for our large industries provide a hint of just how important they were to our community.

International Paper, Armstrong Tire and Rubber and Johns Manville are all prominently represented in years until the early 2000s when many industries closed.

But it can be more personal, too. Flipping through more years, we are reminded of the loss of some great folks who helped make their mark on the Miss-Lou, people such as Vidalia’s Sidney Murray and Natchez’s Weeta Colebank.

Both are great folks who are truly missed.

But we also see some positives in the pages, too.

From bird’s-eye view one can see the community’s focus on historic preservation and tourism growth as the pages turn forward in time. That’s a great improvement for us.

In addition, the pages begin to reflect improvements in diversity in our community, too. In later years, more faces are female and more still are black. That’s a great thing as our community is truly blessed to have such diversity throughout.

Today’s Profile, I hope, will stand the test of time as, in some ways, a yearbook of where we are in 2011.

Our theme this year, A Community of One, seems to fit a renewed view of itself that Natchez and the Miss-Lou seems to be embracing — we’re all in this together.

Efforts in regionalism illustrate that there’s a desire, here and now, to start really working together, across racial divisions, economic differences and even arbitrary state, city and county boundaries.

When we pull that off, we hope future generations are flipping back through the next 40 years of Profile sections and think, “2011 is when Natchez and the Miss-Lou really started rebuilding itself into a community of one.”

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or kevin.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.

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