Innovation and creativity are top priorities for the Monroe County Journal’s Managing Editor Ray Van Dusen.
“From the front page to the back page, everything is about Monroe County,” he said.
Since his start with the Monroe Journal in 2009, it has been just that. Today’s journalism industry has obstacles, and there is only one constant in the business – change.
Van Dusen said when he was first hired at the newspaper, there was no internet. If he needed it, he would walk to the city library. Today’s challenges are more audience-based.
As the only full-time news writer for the newspaper, Van Dusen covers all things in the county, from local government to the obituaries.
“Not every single person is going to care about it,” he said, “but we’re going to put it out there.”
A typical week for Van Dusen and the newspaper staff begins on Tuesday afternoon with a budget meeting to discuss the agenda for the upcoming deadline. The staff discusses topics, such as advertisement sales, pitching story ideas and events – like the upcoming Chilifest or open house – to stay ahead in the game.
Van Dusen later returns to his office to begin uploading content to the newspaper websites. All of their photos are uploaded for purchase to bring in more revenue.
“We can sometimes have a lot of courtesy photos,” Van Dusen said as he finished uploading the week’s pictures, “but, really, I prefer if we take our own photos, because it’s the headlines and the pictures that draw people in,”
On a second website, Van Dusen strategically plans when to upload articles before the next deadline. Although the paper is moving more towards digital, he prefers the nostalgia of print.
“Do we embrace the technology? Oh yeah definitely,” he said.
But Van Dusen said he’d be rich if he could strike a profitable balance with digital and print. “If we can figure that out, we could write books about it and sell it to every single newspaper across the country,” he said.
Because of the growth of digital, many newspapers, including this one, have downsized in various ways. The first change was printing on smaller paper.
Today’s sizes differ dramatically from those a few years ago, but that’s not the only thing that has been cut. Journalists have been lost at newspapers around the country because of smaller budgets and larger workloads.
At the Monroe Journal, there are only six staff members, and only two are full time writers. “Gotta put in way more hours than what we get paid for,” Van Dusen said. “One thing, too, that I’m hopeful for from the millennial generation is that everything that’s old is new again.”
He hopes print becomes popular again and society begins to think that reading the paper is “cool,” because losing revenue is the biggest struggle for many papers today.
“Writing is my passion,” he said. “It’s my creative outlet. Do I want (to do) it every single day? No. But it is what it is, so I have to make the best of it.
“The pay isn’t always that great, and the hours are pretty long,” he said, “but there are plenty of rewards to this.”
When asked what advice he’d give journalism students today, he said: “Keep your options open beyond journalism. With changing times, you see more blogs and less job opportunities.”
Sports editor Melissa Meador encouraged students to get lots of experience, “whether (it is) working with something on campus or reaching out to a paper like the Monroe Journal. “As bad as it is, nobody is going to hire someone straight out of school without experience,” she said.
Meador began working with the company as a copyist for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, but she longed to get back into sports writing like she did in college.
A year and a half later, she was offered a position with another company to cover strictly news, but when she was about to give notice, she was offered the sports editor position for the Monroe County Journal.
“It was actually a very significant pay cut from what I was offered,” Meador said, “but it was to do something that I liked. Make less, but be happy. And so far, I haven’t regretted that decision.
“Seeing how excited someone gets when they see their picture in the paper or a parent sees their kid, and just being there for the good moments, and seeing the impact on the community. That’s what makes it worth it.