ROLLING FORK, Miss.— Natalie Perkins was enrolled in an English composition class at Mississippi Delta Community College in 1994 when her professor noticed her writing skills and asked her to be the editor of the student newspaper. Perkins had no experience working for a newspaper, but her professor encouraged her, saying the job would pay for her college tuition.
“She taught me some basics, and I was able to go to school for a year on that,” Perkins told the Mississippi Free Press. “And then I needed a job because I had a kid.”
That year of working for the student newspaper was just the beginning of her journalism career. In February 1995, she visited Ray Mosby, then-owner and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot, and he hired her “on the spot” to work for the paper.
“He liked to tell people that I came in the first day and I wouldn’t look up from my feet, and five years later I was telling him what to do, which is about right,” Perkins said with a laugh.
“I never finished my degree; I have a degree from the ‘University of Ray Mosby Journalism,” she added.
Perkins and Mosby worked together for about 28 years producing the paper while his wife, Phyllis Mosby, did the page layouts and designs until she developed Alzheimer’s and later passed away.
Ray Mosby died in November 2021 due to health complications. Before he passed, though, he asked Perkins if she wanted to run the paper.
“Well I don’t want to do anything else,” she remembered telling him.
Perkins now has a part-time employee, Amy George, who mainly writes feature stories.
“At Ray’s visitation, (George) came up to me and was talking to me,” Perkins recalled. “She said, ‘You know I have a degree in journalism,’ I said, ‘No, I did not know that. Do you want a job?’”
George came back a few weeks later and said she would intern for a month to see how it goes.
“Neither one of us has looked back,” Perkins said. “She’s been amazing.”
‘I Had to Think of Emergency Response’
Amy George has helped Perkins bear the workload in the past few months due to Perkins’ other job as the deputy director of the Sharkey County Emergency Management Agency taking up much of her time in the aftermath of the tornado that hit Rolling Fork on March 24. Perkins has worked for the EMA for about eight years.
On Friday, March 24, Perkins was chaperoning her high-school daughter’s prom in a nearby town when the lights went out. By 8 p.m., the tornado had hit and Perkins told her daughter, “I have to go to work.”
“From that moment, I really couldn’t think about the newspaper,” Perkins said. “I had to think of emergency response.”
People immediately started contacting Perkins to ask for help or offer assistance.
“Finally, Waid Prather from the Carthaginian called me, and he said, ‘Scott Boyd and I are coming to Rolling Fork. We know you don’t have time to do this (produce the weekly newspaper),’” Perkins recollected.
They arrived two days later to write stories and take pictures documenting the tornado’s devastation to the town.
“They were a godsend because I really don’t know how I would’ve done it,” Perkins said.
By Monday night, March 27, Perkins realized she had not slept since Friday’s storms. She still had to design Wednesday’s paper and knew she needed to rest.
“Then that Tuesday night, at 10:30, the county’s lawyer was sitting in my dining room,” she said. “We were writing legal notices. I think it was like one or two in the morning, but those pages finally got sent to the printer. Like I said, we didn’t miss a paper.”
The Deer Creek Pilot published an eight-page paper on March 30 covering multiple aspects of the tornado’s aftermath—including feature stories about affected residents and how people could apply for assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
During those first few weeks post-tornado, Perkins produced the newspaper from her Anguilla, Miss., home, which didn’t receive damage, using a Wi-Fi hotspot a friend gave her.
The Deer Creek Pilot office had roof and ceiling damage, allowing water to drip into some of the rooms. A local church donated labor to fix the roof, so Perkins only had to pay for the materials.
She said the newspaper received an influx of support from advertisers in the first six weeks following the tornado, though that pace has been “limping along” in the time thereafter.
The Mississippi Press Association raised $15,000 through GoFundMe donations, and the Kellogg Foundation awarded a grant to the Deer Creek Pilot.
Rolling Fork had faced other natural disasters like the flood of 2019 and a smaller tornado in December 2022, along with the COVID-19 pandemic that the rest of the world also endured. But the E-4 tornado that swept through that March night was unlike anything the town had ever experienced in recent memory.
“We were overwhelmed by the magnitude of what happened,” Perkins said. “We were unprepared, but emergency-management people from all of our neighboring counties were here within an hour.”
“There’s not enough thanks in the world for all the people that came and helped,” she added.
During a June 19 interview, Perkins said she was exhausted balancing the workload for her jobs while making time for family. In addition to her positions with the Deer Creek Pilot editor and local EMA, Perkins has a marketing gig with the Bank of Anguilla, designs the yearbook for Sharkey Issaquena Academy, serves as the secretary of that school’s booster club and does graphic-design work “on the side.”
“Responsibility is one of my big things,” Perkins said on why she chooses to serve her community in numerous ways. “If I have a responsibility, it’s getting taken care of, and responsibility is important to me. Because of that, I have a responsibility to be a good citizen for my community and to be involved and to be a part of it.”