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State losing 2 leading editors

In Prentiss Headlight editor Patsy Speights and Clarion-Ledger editorial director David Hampton, Mississippi is losing two of our state’s most influential and dynamic journalists.

In Patsy Speights, the people of Prentiss and Jeff Davis County have been served by a feisty, fearless small town editor who literally exhausted her health in working to give them the best community newspaper possible. Not only was Patsy a dedicated and no-nonsense reporter covering the beats of crime, government and politics, but she also worked tirelessly to improve the quality of life and the economic development of the newspaper’s territory.

Owned by the Jacobs family in Brookhaven, The Prentiss Headlight has — despite its relatively small size in the pecking order of Mississippi newspapers — been an innovator. Patsy has been a master of the Byzantine rules and regulations of the U.S. Postal Service as it related to community newspapers and she was regularly called upon by her colleagues as a mentor and guide.

Patsy’s acumen was actually recognized by the USPS with a national award. But Patsy is best known as the gravel-voiced, tough lady with the shock of white hair and the laughing eyes that charmed even those politicians whose toes she mashed in the newspaper when it was necessary.

She served as president of the Mississippi Press Association and the MPA Education Foundation. To say that she is roundly respected by her peers from the state’s largest newspapers to the smallest is an understatement. Patsy’s retirement after a long and productive career will be observed formally this week and I wish her health, happiness and time with her loved ones.

At the state’s largest newspaper, much has been written about the exodus of eight of The Clarion-Ledger’s senior staffers as part of a Gannett early retirement incentive program or buyout. It’s an economic strategy utilized by a number of large companies and some government entities as well to reduce payroll by giving senior employees incentive to retire and replacing them with younger, less expensive employees.

One of the senior C-L staffers that will depart the newspaper is Hampton, the paper’s longtime editorial director and one of the best journalists and best human beings I’ve ever known. Detractors have called Hampton every name in the book, but most of those names have “liberal” mixed into the criticism somewhere in the phrase.

David Hampton is an unabashed liberal by Mississippi standards, which makes him a moderate by national standards. On matters of civil rights, public education and the death penalty, Hampton’s deep religious faith has been his guide and he doesn’t apologize for those beliefs regardless the criticism.

While we’ve argued about politics on occasion, I’ve had few friends in whom I’ve invested more trust, respect, and admiration. Hampton shaped public policy in Mississippi for four decades and he did so without compromising his principles or his beliefs.

We’ve hunted together, buried loved ones together, and most of all laughed together.  He is a good and decent man who got in the public arena and stood his ground. In my book, that’s tough enough. As Mississippi’s most heavily armed liberal, I wish David slow deer, plentiful turkeys, and schools of fish with a death wish.

For both David and Patsy, readers really won’t know how much their voices of reason will be missed in Mississippi journalism until they’ve exited the public stage.

(Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 601-507-8004 or sidsalter@sidsalter.com)