Executive Editor, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal
I was a capitol correspondent for several years for the paper on the Mississippi Gulf Coast – The Sun Herald.
And during that time there was an almost continuous debate about education in Mississippi and about improving education in Mississippi. And we had just come through the trauma of school desegregation; there was a lot of – sort of – it could go either way in terms of whether we’d even consider that our public education system was worth saving.
And, I think, the newspapers of Mississippi, including the one I work with, both in their coverage and in their editorials, raised that issue of the just absolute urgent need of improvement of Mississippi’s educational system. Basically [the newspapers] convinced the public of the necessity, and the public then convinced the legislature of the necessity.
And we had a governor at the time who was very active in pushing for massive educational changes and reform – William Winter – still alive. And the newspapers were as responsible as any entity for the passage in 1982 of the Mississippi Education Reform Act at a special session of the legislature. The Clarion-Ledger, in Jackson, won a Pulitzer Prize for its role in that effort. It was, at that time, the most comprehensive educational reform effort in America.
And it was, for this state, more than just a policy decision or more than just the benefits of the legislation itself should – which included tax increases, which included, for the first time, public kindergarten, mandatory school attendance, all sorts of the beginnings of accountability and higher standards and that sort of thing.
But it was also, for Mississippi, it was a psychological breakthrough. Because for so long we had been – we had this inferiority complex, and we were just convinced that we would always be poor and dead last in everything. And there wasn’t really much we could do about it.
And newspapers rallied and convinced the people, I think: No we can – we can be better. We can create a better future for our children. And we can really think about creating a better life and prosperity in this state.
And I would say: Yeah, most newspapers in the state at that time were pretty much in lockstep, editorially, on this.
And so it was the power of a lot of newspapers. And maybe in this day and time, newspapers wouldn’t have that reach or that power, but they did then. And there is no doubt in my mind that the newspaper that I worked for then and this newspaper, at that same time, had that impact.