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Updated: Friday, 18 Jan 2013, 4:02 PM CST
Published : Thursday, 17 Jan 2013, 5:34 PM CST
MOBILE, Ala (WALA) - Frances Coleman’s newspaper column has been available to readers of the Press-Register for almost 30 years. She wrote about the tough issues and the ones that touch our hearts.
Coleman also served as the editorial page editor for 17 years, until major changes at the newspaper in 2012. She recently shared about her career, the newspaper industry and how her talent for writing was first recognized in elementary school.
"If you write a column long enough, you sort of grow up in your column and your thoughts mature and your philosophies and your logical thinking patterns evolve and mature. So when I look back at my columns, I can see a lot of growth there," Coleman reflected on a more than three-decade career.
Coleman said her career as a journalist initially grew out of a love for reading when she was a young girl. She even thought about writing in those early years.
"I loved to read when I was a kid. And I used to think, ‘I wonder if I could do that?’ write all these books? So I read and read and read. An English teacher in the seventh grade in Huntsville, Texas, took an interest in me, and we had to do book reports. And I remember she said, ‘I've got three that I want to read out loud to the class that are very good.’ And one of them was mine. And, I’m not saying that she proclaimed me Ernest Hemingway, but I am saying that she was the first person who said, ‘You have a talent. You can write,'" Coleman remembered.
Coleman was encouraged to enter an essay contest. She did, and she won. In high school, she decided to go to college to become an English teacher.
"After about a year at Stephen F. Austin University, I realized I hate this. I don't care why William Faulkner wrote what he wrote or what motivated someone else to write something. What do I do? And I thought I'll take some journalism courses and see if I like that. And I took those, and realized I like to write something about this long. And I really enjoyed it, “ Coleman said.
A small daily newspaper in Texas gave Coleman her first job after college.
"Back then, it seemed like every little town, in Texas anyway, had a little daily newspaper. The Palestine Herald Press hired me. And it was fun. I stayed there a year or so, and then moved back to Alexandria, Louisiana, and worked there at a newspaper where I met my husband," Coleman recalled.
In 1979, her husband, a Baldwin County native, moved the young couple to Foley.
"I went to work for the Onlooker Newspaper down in Foley. And one thing about the weekly newspaper world, you can rise fast because there aren't that many of you in the office. They promoted me, at all of 25-years-old, to editor of the Onlooker and the Islander," Coleman said.
She said the Press-Register didn't have any openings when she first moved to Alabama. But in 1984, there was a job in the Baldwin County office.
"I went to work for the Press-Register in their Foley office and began to write a column there for the Baldwin County section. My work attracted the eye of the editorial page editor in the downtown Mobile office who eventually said, ‘Why don't you come and work on my staff?’ Then lo and behold, a few years later he had gotten the itch to go get his PhD and be a professor, and they promoted me to that job in the mid 1990s. Suddenly, I was editorial page editor," Coleman gleamed.
The promotion made Coleman the first female editorial page editor in the Press-Register's 200-year history.
"I liked the fact that you meet so many interesting people. Not just locally, but state wide and occasionally national figures who wanted to come before the editorial board" Coleman recalled. "You really could be involved in shaping the community, and I liked that a lot. Over the years, I wrote editorials about some of Alabama's problems and some of Alabama's challenges to be a better state. I wrote about challenging Alabama to be all that it could be, to quote the U.S. Army slogan. Those were good.
"People would say, ‘I feel like I know you from your column. I feel like I know your husband, your children, your dogs.’ I think the one that resonated more than any with my readers, was one I wrote for Father’s Day about looking back on my own father who died when I was 20. I didn't know how to say the things that I wish now I had said and how to appreciate your parents as an adult yourself. So, that did resonate. And I got a lot of comments from people saying, ‘Oh my gosh. I remember when.'"
In recent years, like newspapers around the country, Press-Register subscriptions have decreased, advertisers left, and employees were laid off.
Coleman said she refers to the day she received the shocking news her 28-year career at the Mobile Press Register was over as “Black Tuesday.” She said it happened June 12, 2012.
"We saw it coming. Like many things, when it finally came, whoosh it was here. Suddenly, there was no such thing as an editorial page editor, as well as a number of other positions. I thought, ‘This can't be happening.’
I was just stunned, dismayed. When you're in the middle of it, it's somewhat tumultuous. It’s like being in the spin cycle of a washing machine," Coleman said.
With a laugh Coleman said, "What's ahead for Frances Coleman? If one of them, my readers, figures it out; they need to tell me. I realize, you know, sometimes when change comes; it can be, I hate to sound silly, but it can be fun and different. And I realize now it was time for a change; time to branch out a little bit."
Coleman's branching out a bit includes some public relations and corporate communications work.
Coleman said about two to three months after the realization of Black Tuesday she started having fun. She is also freelancing as her column appears now in other area newspapers like the Citronelle Call.
Despite the major changes in Mobile's newspaper, you can still read Frances Coleman's weekly column in the Press-Register. She said it's kind of like having the best of both worlds.