The Old Man always makes headlines

Published 12:03 am Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Just a month ago when the Mississippi River was approaching flood stage, the community consensus was one of boredom.

My what a few weeks and a predicted 16 feet can do.

The river stage and its predicted 64-foot crest is the topic of conversation in hair salons, veterinarians’ offices and stores across town.

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Our newspaper’s web traffic on the issue has gone from an online comment saying something to the effect of “why is this news, it rises every year,” to a record-setting number of page views day after day — more than triple our norm.

The fact is: the Mississippi River is always news in Natchez. It made us, and many fear it could be about to break us.

Following its levels, especially in the spring, is something our newspaper will always do.

But as of late, it’s consumed our coverage plan.

Last week, so many questions important to the public ran through our minds and across our desks that we rushed constantly to find answers — even from a few government agencies that apparently pride themselves on vague answers to direct questions.

At the same time, the community was overwhelmed by the new age of “news” dissemination.

At the request of a spectator at last Tuesday’s emergency City of Vidalia meeting, the city opted to begin putting news updates on its Facebook site. The Concordia Parish Sheriff’s Office began releasing information on its own website. The parish chamber was delivering flood news. A Natchez Under-the-Hill flood Facebook site popped up.

And most recently, the U.S. Corps of Engineers is seeking to route all questions from the public to their flooding social media site.

Mayor Hyram Copeland will tell you that texts of “news” containing many rumors have nearly ruined the mental health of his community.

And of course, there is the form of news delivery we’ve had since the beginning of time — our mouths.

It seemed like everywhere you turned, someone was ready to spout their version of the latest flood news.

Social media is great for entertainment, but it does little to spread accurate, well-rounded news, in my opinion.

Even when the Facebook updates are coming straight from the source — like the city or corps — they don’t allow for in-depth answers or unbiased questions. And they only tell the side of the story the source wants you to hear.

Obviously, I’m partial on this issue, but my long-standing belief that the local newspaper is best way to get the whole story about what is going on in your community has only been strengthened in this latest disaster.

If someone doesn’t want to answer our questions, we are paid to find someone else who can and will. We aren’t seeking to control any message, and our main concern is our readers — not the image of any entity or any political game.

I’ll brag on our staff’s hard work in the last week to anyone, since no one in the area has answered as many questions with as much information as our newspaper’s print and online editions.

I appreciate the many thank yous that have come from dozens of readers, including the leaders in Concordia Parish.

The truth remains that your local newspaper is here to tell the story, every angle of it. The city, parish and corps have a bigger job right now — protecting you and your property.

That protection work of local leaders has been simply amazing in the last week.

I know they will do that job to the best of their ability, and leaving the news dissemination to traditional media will only allow more time for leaders to continue to carry out that task.

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