Managing editor announces retirement: Sullivan says goodbye after 24 years at the Item

Published 12:58 pm Saturday, February 22, 2014

Picayune Item Managing Editor Will Sullivan announced he will retire on Feb. 28, after 43 years in the newspaper industry.

“We will truly miss Will and his steadfast leadership over our team,” Picayune Item Publisher Linda Gilmore said. “His unwavering dedication and journalistic integrity have been a credit to both, our paper and the industry. We all certainly wish him the best for the future.”

Sullivan witnessed the era of industry automation, as well as the evolution from lead filled linotypes to Mac Book Pros for publication layout, plus the progression from manual development of film negatives to the use of digital cameras where photos can be uploaded instantly.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Sullivan began his career in 1971 with the Clarion Ledger, where his passion for agriculture led him to receive prestigious awards for his work. This included The American Bar Association Certificate of Merit for contributing to public understanding of the American system of law and justice for his work on “The Hidden War,” in 1982.

That same year he also received a DeKalb Oscar in Agriculture for excellence in agricultural communications in the Team Effort Category.

“The Hidden War” centered on the Corps of Engineers’ purchase of a right-of-way around Granada Lake. They took land away from people to make the lake and then bought land around it for easements for the overflow of the lake to contour lines instead of survey lines. His articles brought about a group lawsuit by farmers against the Corps, in which the ruling was given in favor of the farmers. An appeal by the Corps resulted in an Appellate Judge ruling against the Corps, again, this time for a frivolous appeal in which they were fined, in addition to awarding the reimbursement of the farmers’ legal expenses.

Sullivan also covered the climate change in Washington from where rural farmers went from being given the cold shoulder in favor of corporate farming firms to regarding the family farmer as a voter and putting them on a more level playing field with the corporate farms.

Sullivan came to work for the Item in September of 1989.

His largest story at the Item was covering Hurricane Katrina.

“It changed the demographics of Picayune significantly. You could see tents in people’s yards of refugees from the coast,” he said. “At the time of Hurricane Katrina, the Pearl River County population was in the high 30,000’s and by the time it settled we were in the 50,000’s.”

Even though technology has undeniably revolutionized the news industry, Sullivan is certain that newspapers will always have a place in today’s world and the principal foundation of newspapers is as solid as ever.

“The industry has changed significantly,” he said. “But what has stayed the same is the necessity of getting the story, getting it accurately, reporting the facts without bias and reporting all sides.”

Sullivan acknowledged the changes and growth occurring in the news industry because of the Internet.

“The Internet has transformed everything. The conversion became super apparent in 2008, when people quit buying papers and began doing everything online. Since then, the news industry has been working hard to keep up with the Internet and remain a viable, reliable source of information online while maintaining its presence in print,” he said. “The Internet is filled with opinions that can easily pass as facts if not closely examined.”

Sullivan said credible news will always be relevant—it is timeless.

“The role of the news industry is one thing that hasn’t changed. We are writing history as it occurs,” he said. “Historians will look at what we write today, at a later time, and use it as context for what was going on at the time just as archaeologists do at dig sites. Archaeology is physical history and newspapers are intellectual history.

Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero said, upon hearing of his retirement, “Mr. Sullivan will be greatly missed. He has been wonderful for the Picayune Item. It has been fun working on stories and discussing the facts with Will. I wish him the best in the future.”

Upon news of his retirement, Picayune School District Supervisor Dean Shaw said, “We are saddened that we are losing a friend of the Picayune School District, but we are excited for him on his retirement.

“Mr. Sullivan did a wonderful job covering students and the activities of our school district.”