Mississippi journalists discuss the evolution of daily newspapers

Bundles of newspapers.

Jodi Hallum
Oxford Stories

It was the final weeks of summer in 1987 when Jeremy Walden, an incoming freshman, met Frank Hurdle, a law student and editor of The Daily Mississippian. Walden finished registering for classes at the Tad Smith Coliseum and made his way over to Farley Hall to meet the newspaper staff. It was his goal to join the team.

“Those were some of the smartest people that I have ever been around,” said Walden. “I was young, of course. I was a freshman in college. But I really admired how Frank, only just a few years older than me, was able to disseminate the news in such a way that all students could relate to. He had a unique ability to see through the official university statements, sometimes on controversial issues, and present them in a way that students, faculty, and anybody reading The Daily Mississippian could understand.”

Hurdle earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi in 1984 and went on to complete his law degree, finishing in 1988. During Hurdle’s time at Ole Miss, he served as a student reporter, and later, editor of The Daily Mississippian. Now, Hurdle is retired and living in his hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Before working for The DM, Hurdle started his own paper on campus. The Ole Miss Review, a conservative newspaper, only lasted one semester until Hurdle shifted his focus to being a columnist for The DM. Nonetheless, he found that The Ole Miss Review carried an influence, as many of the people writing columns for The DM had followed him from his paper.

1988 Ole Miss Yearbook. The Daily Mississippian Senior Staff. Pictured far right, Frank Hurdle
1988 Ole Miss Yearbook. The Daily Mississippian Senior Staff. Pictured far right, Frank Hurdle

After the switch, he worked his way up onto the production team and spent a fair amount of time alongside Gale Denley, who was serving as the director of the Student Media Center at that time. After doing that for a few years, Hurdle became editor of The DM.

Even though Hurdle got his undergraduate degree in English, he still recalls long hours spent in Farley Hall working on the paper.

“I went every morning, say 9 o’clock, worked for a couple of hours, went back in at two in the afternoon, took a break for supper at the fraternity house, and then worked until midnight,” said Hurdle.

Before major technological advancements of the 21st century, this kind of labor was required to produce a daily newspaper. Walden, now editor of The Panolian, shares the same sentiment when looking back.

“Those were the days when we had no cell phones. And we had no social media,” Walden said. “The Daily Mississippian was Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Yahoo News all combined. It was the news source.”

“I distinctly remember walking across campus at 7:30 or 7:45 on my way to an eight o’clock class and almost every person walking to class would be reading The [Daily] Mississippian at the same time,” Walden said. “And to be honest with you, I miss those days.”

1988 Ole Miss Yearbook. Frank Hurdle is honored in the Hall of Fame
1988 Ole Miss Yearbook. Frank Hurdle is honored in the Hall of Fame

Hurdle spent 50-60 hours a week working at The DM.  He remembers having to make some trade-offs to make it all work, stating, “My grades were not as good as they could have been.”

However, when asked how this experience shaped his future, he replied, “It certainly taught me how to ask the right questions. The who, when, where, how, and what is the most important issue.”

Though Hurdle did not pursue a career exclusively in journalism, he spent nearly 10 years in the industry. In 1998, Hurdle and some of his family bought The DeSoto Times and attempted to make it a daily paper.

“If it’s a small town, people either love or hate their local paper. But I made a lot of friends and enjoyed what I was doing,” said Hurdle.

After some pushback though, the paper shifted to three days a week. Now, it runs weekly.

“It’s kind of funny, we didn’t know in 1998 that the internet was about to just wipe newspapers off the map,” Hurdle said.

Not all printed newspapers have become extinct though. Since 1882, The Panolian has served Panola County as the source for local news. Walden and his team of writers have roughly a week to find stories, research, interview, edit, and revise. This group of journalists must be very purposeful with the news they want to cover.

On the other hand, social media has allowed other reporters to make all news “breaking news.” With the click of a few buttons, reporters can type a tweet and quickly send it out to thousands of people. 

1990 Ole Miss Yearbook. Senior Staff of The Daily Mississippian. Pictured far left, Jeremy Walden.
1990 Ole Miss Yearbook. Senior Staff of The Daily Mississippian. Pictured far left, Jeremy Walden.

“I would say that print journalists have to be more thoughtful. If anything, I think we’re missing that,” said Walden.

Although, that is not the only way in which the journalism industry has changed over the past 30+ years.

“It’s obvious to all of us that reporting is not the same,” Walden said. “Reporting styles are not being employed today, hardly at any level. But I also feel like there is a certain journalistic base that is still providing the community with information and perspective that they can’t get anywhere else.” 

“It’s a tough field,” said Hurdle. “Newspapers are shrinking, and I don’t know whether they’re going to survive or not, other than maybe your local papers. And they may not be around forever either.”

“My advice is to read other newspapers, and read lots of them,” said Walden. “Let that be a guide to you and your writing. Whether it’s good papers or bad papers… read a lot.”

Now, Walden and Hurdle live in separate towns and work in different industries. Nevertheless, they still share a bond through Ole Miss, The Daily Mississippian, and being journalists during a time in which the industry was far different than it is today.

The next time you see a newspaper, pick it up and read it. You may find it to be a refreshing break from the constant buzz of online news reporting. It could offer you a different, more unique perspective that you won’t find elsewhere.

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