Spotlight Exclusives

Rolling Fork Editor Juggles Two Crucial Jobs In Wake of Tornado

Natalie Perkins Natalie Perkins, posted on

Being the editor of a small-town newspaper is a really hard job. So, imagine being the editor of a newspaper in a community that is decimated by a tornado. Then, imagine being the editor of a newspaper in a community decimated by a tornado and the assistant director of the county Emergency Management Agency. Welcome to the life of Natalie Perkins, editor of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork, Miss.—a tiny Mississippi Delta community in which 85% of the town was destroyed and 13 people died as a result of a massive tornado on March 24. Perkins never missed a deadline while still working 24 hours a day to help her community begin to recover. Spotlight caught up with her for a few minutes recently—though she fielded calls from local residents throughout. The transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

You’re an incredibly busy lady Natalie and I appreciate you spending a few minutes with us. To start, how are things on the ground there?

Well, we are full on into recovery mode right now, when all of the assistance from FEMA really kicks in—individual assistance, housing and trying to get all of that straightened out. It’s just really getting down into the weeds of everything.

And Natalie, you don’t just run the newspaper, correct?

Yes, I’m also the assistant Emergency Management Director for Sharkey County.

Two pretty crazy jobs at the moment

Absolutely. And my newspaper job really takes a backseat right now because of the importance of the other job.

And are you from Rolling Fork?


And how long at the newspaper and at your emergency management job?

Twenty-eight years at the newspaper and on the other job, I need to try to figure that out. I need to ask the county to be sure, but I believe it’s right around eight years.

Publishing a newspaper is an adventure under any circumstances but tell me what that was like during the aftermath of the tornado.

Tuesday is deadline day, and my paper technically has to be at the printer by 8:30 on Wednesday morning. So, I don’t leave on Tuesday until the pages are uploaded. That first week, if it was not for two fellow newspaper publishers—who are not even from the Delta—that came in and worked all day that Sunday gathering information and stories and taking pictures, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to put out much of the newspaper.

And who were those folks?

Wade Prather from the Carthaginian (in Carthage, Ms.) and Scott Boyd from the Macon Beacon (Macon, Ms.).

That’s terrific.

It really was. And of course, I have my part-time employee, Amy George, who has just been amazing. My sister is a graphic designer and has been taking care of all of my ad composition for me since the tornado. Our advertising base is gone here, but Amy put something on our Facebook page asking people to consider helping us out by placing ads and we’ve gotten ads from all over the place. I’ve even had to go up a couple of pages a couple of times.

What’s your circulation?

Our circulation right now is right at about 1,200.

And that’s print and online?

Just print, we don’t have anything online. I’m working with a company right now to start that.

That may have been fortunate during the storm, as I’m guessing there were people who didn’t have power for quite some time.

Everybody that can have power pretty much has power now.

And how do you deliver it? Do you mail it?

We mail it and that was a little difficult, especially that first week because our post office also got destroyed. They were working in a building with no roof, or half a roof, and they had tables set up along the side for people to pick their mail up because they really couldn’t deliver those first few days. But that’s sort of evened out. We’re able to drop the papers like we always have. The biggest issue I’ve had is doing my postal report every week because I can’t make deposits at my local post office right now to pay for the mailing. I thankfully had enough in my account to cover two or three weeks, but now I’m going to have to drive somewhere to make a deposit.

You’re a real lifeline for this community, as you’re really the only source of local news, right?

Absolutely. The closest radio and television stations are in Greenville, Yazoo City, Vicksburg, and Jackson. They’re all more than 40 miles away.

What’s the biggest need right now?

As far as in the community? I think our biggest issue is transportation because so many people lost their vehicles. The ones that lost their vehicles that have insurance, of course they’re going to get vehicles, but the ones that didn’t have full coverage and only have liability or they didn’t have anything—that’s been one of the biggest things. We have roughly 120 hotel rooms that are out of town that families are staying in and trying to get services to them because they don’t have transportation is one of the hardest things.

Right now, just getting people back here is one of our biggest challenges and then getting people to rebuild and stay here. So many people have said we’re not going to build back or we’re going to go try to find somewhere out in the country. We could lose a big portion of our tax base.

I wish there were places that any of us could find where this sort of weather is not a threat, but I don’t think that’s the case anymore. It could happen anywhere.

Exactly. We’ve had tornados over the years, but most of the time when bad weather hits that river it will just drop down east of us. This one formed and came straight at us like it was just attracted to Rolling Fork. A mile or even a half mile in either direction, it would have done minimal damage.

So, to end where we started, how do you prioritize between these two jobs?

On Tuesday the paper comes first. But if I get a phone call, then I’ll do what I have to do and those first couple of weeks, I spent half the day during EMA instead of the newspaper. I’ve always been conscious of the line between them because I know what needs to be public information and what can’t be.  But right now, as far as priority, I mean, it’s got to be the EMA . The newspaper’s not getting the attention it needs but it’s getting done and people are getting the information that they need.

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