Newspaper staff works to keep community informed (Part 1 of 3)
Okmulgee Times recently had the honor of being nominated as one of Okmulgee County’s Unsung Heroes. To be honest, everyone was pleasantly surprised as well as being humbly pleased with a sense of gratitude. Join me as I sit down and talk behind the scenes with the team that makes it all happen.
The Varied Faces Behind the News Joshua Jackson Okmulgee Times and Henryetta Freelance Reporter “If a man hasn’t discovered something that he will die for he ain’t fit to live.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
A series of events in culture was the catalyst to Jackson’s turn into the world of journalism.
“My name is Joshua Jackson and I am a news reporter here at the Okmulgee Times. I got my Bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Oklahoma in 2018. But this is my first real opportunity to get to really utilize it and grow those skills in a more professional setting. So I’m enjoying it so far.
“My first major was advertising with a minor in anthropology … And it was there getting an understanding of the different cultures, that’s where I learned that I had a passion for that. Learning about other people and their upbringing and understanding the history of people and where they come from, because it helps to understand where people are currently. And so that, honestly, is what kind of transformed my major.”
While attending college, Jackson worked in IT. After graduating, this is the role he found himself in, but it didn’t keep him from his first love of writing be it in the form of song, literature or journaling.
“You know, the last few years of my life have truly been a blessing,” Jackson said, “and I could only control the things I can control. And in trying, and I emphasize trying, because even to this day, I try not to overwhelm myself with things that are out of my control. And so one thing I knew that I can control, I knew I was, you know, at least a decent writer. “I would like to think that I’m a good writer, but I know that I want to be a better one. And I know that I want to become better in this environment as a writer because writing journalistic pieces, and writing, you know, a blog and writing a song is different. And so just learning those and re-familiarizing myself with, you know, just journalistic standards is something that I’m enjoying. It’s just been a reaffirming a few months, being here.”
So you write music too?
“So all those kind of intersect,” Jackson said, “but as far as music, my dad is a singer songwriter, my uncles do it. And then growing up singing in church, my grandpa was a pastor. I was always around it. And I guess the passion for writing and music kind of combined in songwriting … writing, songwriting and performing is where I first developed some sense of community.
“You know, I’m a relatively introverted person,” Jackson said. “I keep to myself, and I think, early on, before I had an understanding of myself, that made it harder for me to connect with people … we make presumptions with people whenever they don’t speak much whenever they’re more quiet … being able to navigate that and finally growing into a place where I can articulate that has been helpful in music.”
For the paper, what is it that you are hoping to do, to give and to gain?
“What I want to do in this space, as I sit here right now, is inform people, but beyond just informing the people I want them to, and myself, I want us to understand the power that we have to change the world around us … I think that collectively, a lot of these things, we make a boogeyman out of a lot of these systems. We make a boogeyman out of a lot of these administrations. When really all we need is the information, equip ourselves with the information to combat it, we just need to be informed.
“And so again, I just want to take seriously my responsibility to inform the public so that we can all, you know, put ourselves in better positions to combat the things that you know are affecting our communities and so that’s what I want to do … what I want to give … would fall on this … the concept of living and dying for the things that you care about finding something worth living and dying for, but I’m in no rush.”
— Elizabeth Ponthieux Okmulgee Times & Henryetta Freelance Receptionist Life has a way of taking us on unexpected journeys, and sometimes those journeys lead us back to where it all began. For Elizabeth Ponthieux (pon-SHAY) it would be leaving the bayou’s of Mississippi to return home. Ponthieux found her position here at the Times a mere month after moving back to Okmulgee.
“Well, I’m the receptionist,” she said. “So I answer phones and take payments for subscriptions and ads and things like that. I also type the logs and the history section of the paper … and I do the obituaries for the online paper.”
What stood out to you about this position, did you ever imagine working in news?
“No, I actually did not,” she said. “So honestly, what stood out was the friendliness. Everybody here is so nice. And in Mississippi, they’re not that nice … Everybody here is just nice in general, like always. It’s like the southern hospitality is not there, it’s here.”
You also do the history section of the paper, what does that entail?
“(On newspapers. com) I go there and I have to look up four different years. So of course, newspapers. com goes back to like 1900. So lots of papers. So I basically go back 10 years, 25 years, 50 years and 100 years, and I read through the papers from back then. And the 1923 papers are not easy to look through, because half of the pages will be completely white because they’re so old.
“Then I take some something that happened then or that was playing in theaters or an ad that they were running and put it into the paper now, as a ‘This happened on this day, back then’, but I only go the day of the publication for the paper coming out or I’ll go the day before or the day after…”
Where do you see yourself long term?
“I could just do what I am doing already, all the time,” she said. “I could get out and do sales and things like that because I’ve got experience. Eventually. Right now I’m still settling.
— Luwana Cowell
Okmulgee Times and Henryetta Free-Lance Legals Clerk Dreams really do come true and Luwana Cowell is a perfect example of this as a reality. Starting out as the receptionist, Cowell says being involved in the newspaper industry was something she always wanted to do.
So what brought you here to the Times?
“…Since I’ve been a kid, I’ve always wanted to work at a newspaper,” Cowell said. “I did it in elementary school, and I did it in middle school and high school, and I was homeschooled and I would even write my little papers at home school because I always wanted to have something to do with it.”
You may remember Cowell from the sweet treat shop on 20th Street called Mae Dae’s Sweet Treats. Now, she’s serving local attorneys and the public at large in a different way.
“I am the legal publisher for Okmulgee Times and Henryetta Free-Lance … It entails dealing with the paperwork that comes in that has to go into the paper for anything from estates to adoption, to death certificates. Things like that, that have to be run so many times in the paper due to a judgment or due to that paperwork that needs to be filed, depending on what it is.”
Where did the spark for being in newspaper come from?
“When I started school, it was a private school,” Cowell said. “It had this really cool machine that you can read and you go and look through all these old newspapers. I was like, ‘Oh, the articles are so awesome!’ Just getting to read about people in the community and how somebody helps somebody else and it was always normally positive you know because it’s a school paper.
“And then my grandparents looked at papers and I’m like, ‘Oh, can I look at that?’ And I would just read you know, anything I get my hands on. I’ve always read. I’m not a television watcher. I don’t watch TV series. I don’t listen to podcasts. I don’t listen to any of that stuff. I just read. So to just read their stories is so much more in depth then to watch something on TV or watch a news interview.
“It’s when you’re reading it, you’re getting a point of view that’s literally theirs. You’re reading their words, you’re reading their stuff, not what somebody else wants to have that reporter say. You’re getting their words, and that was really important to me … Because kids nowadays aren’t curious anymore. Social media has just made them ‘blah.’ Life is ‘blah’ for them. I want my kids to go ‘Hey, read this paper.” Did you see what you did? Like, ‘you took those pictures? ‘That story is, because you took pictures to allow them to write that story. How cool is that?
— Dawn Carter
Okmulgee Times Reporter
One of the hardest things to do is to write about yourself. So for this interview, I’ve called on my newfound friend and colleague, Joshua Jackson to help.
There are some among us who know no strangers. Dawn Carter is one of those people. It’s why she’s found herself on the Okmulgee City Council and a reporter here at the Times, positions that allow her to lend her ear and her hand when needed.
Did you always see yourself in this field as a reporter?
“I was a writer, so you know, I’m nosy. And I love finding things out,” Carter said.
She expounded on her nosiness, how she took what began as a defense mechanism and turned it into a skill that allows her to tell her story and better articulate the world around her. She talked to me about how this nosiness comes from a place of seeking understanding – not to simply be in the business of others, but to be a reliable source of information and allow those in her community to make informed decisions.
So what brought you to the Times?
“I saw where they were hiring and I had actually worked for a newspaper in Tulsa before,” she said. “ The Oklahoma Eagle. And I had also created a newspaper/ magazine for my church, Redeemed by Grace in Tulsa. I did it for like three years and I loved it and I did not get paid for it.”
I asked Dawn what inspired her to want to begin a church newspaper and she replied: “I felt like people were not informed, you know? My reasoning for doing a lot of stuff is because I’m wanting to help, and be able to merge … things that make me happy with helping others.”
What is something you want to gain from this moment?
“I want to be a better writer,” she said with a laugh, telling me that she enjoys highlighting the unknown, the things we take for granted.
“I love things like that. I love the underdog. Which is why I really enjoyed doing Unsung Heroes.”
Carter emphatically described her respect for the people featured in the column, which she hopes will continue to give flowers to community members whose work often flies under the radar.
“I love getting to the heart of why people do things,” she said. “Even when I go and I talk to people with a new business. If I just go and write down this is where they’re located, that’s sterile to me. So I’m like ‘okay, why did you move here? Why are you offering this service? Who are you’ … I love asking people – who are you.”
You’ve already somewhat answered it, but what are you hoping to give in this position?
“I hope to give a whole nother perspective of looking at something,” Carter said. I’m a mental landscaper, and when I’m bringing up points and things, I’m not necessarily trying to change your view, I’m just trying to give you another one.”
Speaking of views, this is a bit of a pivot. How did you become involved in The Crown Act?
Currently, because the Crown Act has not been passed in Oklahoma, Black people can legally be denied employment or professional advancement opportunities without consequences.
After meeting Dr. Tamecca Rodgers at an event set up by a local teacher, Carter shares how she and Rogers just clicked.
“So we hit it off,” she said. “We just chatted it up and we exchanged phone numbers. She asked if I had ever dealt with hair discrimination– you or your daughters? And I was like, ‘Well, yeah, actually’… and that’s what got it started going.”
Carter said that Dr. Rodgers asked if she would be open to sharing her experiences as part of a documentary she was working on. Now you can watch the award-winning documentary on available streaming platforms.
In closing, I asked if there were any groups in Okmulgee that she really wanted to reach out to.
“I’m really wanting to reach our young people,” Dawn said in reply. She talked about how the young people she used to work with would often come to her with labels like ‘troubled,’ and how, when she saw herself in those kids, the labels made less and less sense.
“Being mislabeled gives permission to mishandle,” she said. Whether it’s through her writing or activism, that is a fight she’s willing to take.
-The Okmulgee Daily Times itself has been around since 1918, but it began as the Daily Democrat in 1912. Renaming itself to Okmulgee Times in 2012, this local paper has seen our world, our state and our city through all her phases. It takes stability to keep local news sources unbiased and afloat ready to deliver the truth uncut. Stay tuned for next week’s edition as we continue meeting your Okmulgee Times news team.
See next Wednesday’s