While growing up in Amelia County, Bekki Morris, publisher of The Amelia Bulletin Monitor, said she couldn’t get away with anything–which isn’t surprising since everyone knew her parents.
Her mother, Ann Bland Morris Salster, owned the town’s only newspaper and her father, Sam Morris, operated the longtime family-owned hardware store across the street from the paper. The store was the oldest retail operation in the county until it burned in the 1990s.
When Bekki was three years old, the family moved from North Carolina to Amelia County where Bekki’s father had grown up. Her mother had worked in the radio and television industry since the age of 11 hosting her first radio show under the guidance of her father, longtime broadcaster Sam Bland.
Ann, who passed away in 2017 following an illness, was a former copywriter and announcer for several stations in North Carolina, and a former traffic announcer at WTVR in Richmond. She joined her father in 1986 to become the first female track announcer for NASCAR, Bekki said. At the time, they were the only father-daughter track announcing team in Winston Cup, the senior NASCAR circuit.
Having lived in Amelia for a few short years, Ann grew frustrated by the actions of some residents in Amelia County who wanted to build an all-white private school during integration and talked to her father about her concerns, Bekki said.
Bland advised his daughter to write a letter to the local newspaper to express her views, to which she replied there wasn’t one–The Amelia County Gazette had ceased printing in 1949.
“Start one,” Bland told her. So, she did.
Ann not only established The Amelia Bulletin Monitor in 1973, she eventually became a member of the Amelia County School Board.
“She really blazed the trail in Amelia,” Bekki said.
Bekki grew up at the newspaper and learned the ropes at her mother’s side. She learned to write “newspaper style” much to the dismay of her teachers, and recalled how the newspaper staff laid out each week’s paper in the early days using the paste-up method. They also shot their own negatives of the pages to make plates for the press. Today, they use Quark software to digitally lay out the pages.
“All my life, whether I wanted to be a reporter or not, I was,” Bekki said.
Despite her early involvement, Bekki said that she didn’t envision a newspaper career for herself. She attended Randolph Macon College in Ashland and went to work in the pharmaceutical research industry as a data and recruiting manager at Virginia Commonwealth University.
When her mother called on Bekki to help out at the newspaper in 2012 while several employees were on maternity leave, Bekki agreed and decided to stay.
Knowing that her mother had poured her heart and soul into the community paper for decades, Bekki said she worked hard during her mother’s illness to make her proud of the job she was doing.
When Ann died, she left her children the paper. Bekki bought out her family’s share of the business and has kept the newspaper going ever since.
Bekki said that she’s happy to continue her mother’s legacy––both at the newspaper and with the Christmas Mother program that she co-chairs. The nonprofit is housed in one-half of the newspaper’s building and serves 600 or more families each year.
“I just love our community. I was raised here,” Bekki said. “To me it’s easier to get things done when you know the people you need to talk with to make things happen.”
Not only does she work with the Christmas Mother program and sponsor the county’s annual Christmas parade, Bekki also co-chairs the Amelia Day Committee and completed her term as the county’s appointed representative on the John Tyler Community College Local Board.
Keeping the nearly the 10,000-circulation paper going is important to Bekki, who said that the community is underserved by other forms of media. Their coverage fills a need for those who want to know what is happening in the community. They also have about 8,000 followers on Facebook.
“I don’t foresee ever not putting out a print edition, because the people here in Amelia like the print edition,” Bekki said.
But since the pandemic began earlier this year, they have been getting by with fewer staff to produce the 24-page weekly paper. Several staffers who had worked at The Monitor for 20-30 years decided it was time to step down due to health reasons.
“We’re hanging in here at this point,” she said. “COVID did hurt somewhat.”
Wayne Russell, who has been an editor at the paper since 1981, covers everything from school board and board of supervisors meetings to circuit court cases and community events. Everything in the paper, other than press releases, is written by him, Bekki said.
Christian Finkbiner, a former associate editor at the paper who had previously left to become a counselor, is helping Bekki out on Tuesdays with copyediting and layout. Friends and others have agreed to answer the phones and proof copy.
With help from her loyal staff and dedicated friends, Bekki has managed, to keep the proud traditions that her mother started. And even though she’s an adult now, she still can’t get away with anything–because now her readers will let her know just what they think.
Article by Deana Meredith, Virgina Press Association communications manager/Photo contributed