Tunica tiger' takes press reins
June 20, 2001
TUNICA Perhaps even more surreal than the sight of gleaming monuments to the state's gaming industry rising out of the former cotton fields and rice paddies of the Mississippi Delta here was the sight of seeing my friend Brooks Taylor step to the podium at the Mississippi Press Association convention last week and assume command of the organization as the MPA president.
Brooks is the publisher and editor of The Tunica Times, the county's newspaper of record and a thriving small independent weekly.
It's not the fact that she's a woman. That barrier was broken years ago in the persons of Marie Harris, then of the West Point Daily Times Leader in 1979, Rubye Del Harden, then of The Itawamba County Times in 1989, and Lisa Denley McNeece of The Calhoun County Journal in 1999.
That's not it. It's the fact that over the course of a decade, Brooks Taylor represents in microcosm the transformation that her home county has undergone.
If Brooks had written "Dear Abby" ten years ago, the letter would have been signed: "Timid in Tunica."
Today, that note would be signed: "Tenacious in Tunica."
Brooks is a soft-spoken, gentle soul with a voice like a church whisper and a laughter as wide as a casino parking lot. She purchased the newspaper in 1991 from the Lee family at the daily newspaper in Grenada.
Joe Lee III, the Grenada publisher and outgoing MPA president this year, joked that he had "the amazing business foresight to sell the paper to Brooks about a year before" the casinos and the shocking economic development infusion that followed came to Tunica County.
Brooks is a white-haired Presbyterian church lady who a decade ago seemed the most unlikely of newspaper publishers. But she has become a white-haired church lady who I wouldn't like to tangle with when it comes to the public good in Tunica County.
Despite being voted one of the "Top 75 Women in Business" by The Delta Business Journal, Brooks still lives the life of a country editor. She gets her hands dirty covering wrecks, fires, murders, government meetings, and the like. Despite her disarming appearance and gentle nature, she's taken the lead in uncovering and battling public corruption, questionable government expenditures and stood up for the little guys in the face of runaway development over the last decade in her home turf.
Like most weekly newspaper operations, she does this job with old and outdated equipment, too few staff members and too little sleep.
I have admired her for years. She's to my way of thinking one of the heroes of Mississippi journalism and business the little lady who was willing to risk it all to serve the people of Tunica County in the days when the most famous landmark was that made famous by Jesse Jackson in the 1980's "Sugar Ditch" when he declared Tunica County "the poorest county in America."
Brooks had the guts to want to publish a newspaper that served "Sugar Ditch" and beyond. The fact that the casino industry's entry into the county provided her an opportunity to grow her newspaper was nothing short of serendipitous.
The future of the newspaper industry in Mississippi will be in good hands for the next year. With battles continuing to safeguard open meetings and open records, technological changes and a tight economy in the state and nation, Brooks has already been tested in the fires of adversity and emerged a warrior.
She cried when she accepted the gavel tears of joy and humility. But don't take that as a sign of weakness, boys.
Brooks will take that gavel and use it as a hammer to build a better industry.
Sid Salter is Perspective Editor/Columnist at The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson and a syndicated Mississippi political columnist . He can be reached at 601-961-7084, P.O. Box 40, Jackson, MS 39206, or at email@example.com.