One of the keepers of history in an eminent Mississippi community has closed its doors and turned off the press forever. Yes, it was a newspaper.
That’s a major part of a newspaper’s obligation to a place: Serving as a historical repository in addition to providing a daily or weekly source of honest reporting and commentary to keep the citizenry informed.
The Bolivar Commercial, which had been a mainstay of Cleveland for 104 years, shut down the end of April. Luckily for the Delta city, another publishing company headed by Scott Coopwood of Cleveland has already started The Cleveland Bullet in its stead.
For 13 years from 1978 through 1990, I was the newspaper’s neighbor at my weekly paper, the Leland Progress, 20 miles away. From there, I kept a close watch on the Bolivar Commercial, Delta State University and a core of solid industries and businesses that joined to make Cleveland the economic powerhouse of the Mid-Delta region.
For most of that time, the Cleveland newspaper was edited by Norman Van Liew, a dedicated newsman and community booster who led the paper and the city through some of their most prosperous times. Van Liew later retired to the Ozarks.
Early on in Leland, I noticed the fine work of a young sports editor at the Bolivar Commercial named Danny Davis. Later, I got a call from the Commercial Dispatch at Columbus asking if I knew of a sportswriter who might be seeking to move a larger paper. I recommended Davis and he spent a few years there as sports editor.
Not long afterwards, now-Dan Davis was doing an exemplary job covering the Legislature for The Clarion-Ledger.
I sold my weekly paper as the 1990s unfolded and went to work for The Clarion-Ledger. By then, Davis had moved into an editor’s post in Jackson. I was grateful he hired me for his staff on the paper’s business desk.
In Leland, we had printed our newspaper on a big offset press but later we sold that machine. The Bolivar Commercial happened to need another pressman and I helped to get our printer, Chip Ouzts, a position in Cleveland (his father, the late, great Ned Ouzts, was our chief pressman in Leland; Chip’s brother, Keith, is also a printer). So, I treasured my friendship with Van Liew and the Bolivar Commercial through those years.
Lee Walls, who owned the Bolivar Commercial, cited the loss of an automobile dealership, a main advertiser, and various social media outlets as major reasons for the closure of the newspaper.
“We don’t have the option to compete against that business model because (newspapers) are held to a higher standard. It is clear that people are choosing social media and (giving up) their privacy over community journalism,” Walls said.
During Facebook’s growth spurt since 2000, circulation for U.S. newspapers has fallen by 50 percent.
Coopwood, a 31-year veteran of the Mississippi Delta’s publishing ranks, has opened the Cleveland Bullet. Coopwood has been successful in editing Delta Magazine, Delta Ag Journal and the Delta Business Journal. He also published a Sunday newspaper, the Cleveland Current, from 2011-2017.
“Scott was the logical choice to approach about publishing a newspaper for the town,” said Cleveland Mayor Billy Nowell. “No one could imagine Cleveland not having a newspaper.”
Coopwood said, “The newspaper business is a challenging business today and with the pandemic sweeping the world, we had to think long and hard before jumping back in.”
I’d say Cleveland, widely seen as the Delta’s most progressive city, is fortunate to have someone of Coopwood’s ability and experience willing to take on the responsibility of reporting the news and maintaining its history.
Mac Gordon is a part-time resident of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at macmarygordon @gmail.com.