"Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."  -- Mark Twain

The phones have been ringing off the hook this week at the Sea Coast Echo, with concerned readers asking questions like, "Where's my Saturday paper?" and "Is it true a new company bought the Echo?" and "Are y'all going out of business?"

Let me be clear: (1) We are not going out of business. (2) No one bought the business -- it has been owned by the same family for the past 51 years, and they have no intention of either selling it or shutting it down. (3) The Saturday paper is no more. From now on, we will only publish the print edition on Wednesdays. However, as you can hopefully see from today's edition, from now on the Wednesday paper will be bigger, with more color, more photos and features, more in-depth stories and, overall, more of what you buy a newspaper for.

We're also beefing up our web presence. We've always posted breaking news and the top four or five news and sports stories from each paper online, but now we're putting more emphasis on the Internet side of the business.

The simple fact is, more and more folks these days want to read the news on their phones and tablets. Print is going out of fashion, and newspapers across the country have been dropping like flies.

The Echo isn't dying, but if we hadn't made some difficult choices recently, it surely would have.

We will still publish a print edition, hopefully forever, because a lot of people still like to feel the paper in their hands, and clip out the photos and stories about their kids to post on the fridge. However, like every other industry, developing technology will determine the future.

I read an article recently by Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which sums up the situation rather nicely:

"When they say 'local news is dying,' they really mean local newspapers. And even that’s not specific enough, when it’s really about hedge fund- and chain-owned newspapers. Local newspapers, specifically those that are locally and independently owned, are not dying. They are changing. It’s rough. But it is not death."

I've been with this newspaper since July 1999. That's a long time, and I've seen a lot of changes.

On Friday, Dec. 6, I watched the last newspaper that will ever be printed here at the Sea Coast Echo roll off the press, because we are now outsourcing the printing. I watched with tears in my eyes as they shut the press down for the last time.

It hurt my soul, it really did. It was painful.

But it was not death.

It was change.

The industry went through huge changes in the '90s, when everyone went from physical paste-up to computer pagination. Then in the early 2000s, digital photography became cheaper to use than film. Each evolution meant fewer people were needed.

We faced that same situation here again last week, and some of the colleagues we lost had been with us for many years. Again, it was painful.

We have always been sort of an extended family here at the Echo.

We are not some faceless, drone-filled organization.

We're your friends and neighbors. We care as much as you do about what's going on, and we are just as affected by current events as you are.

With that in mind, I'd like to introduce you to the current Sea Coast Echo team.

I'm Geoff Belcher, and I'm now the Echo's general manager. I've been here for the past 20 years, and if you don't know me, you've at least seen me out and about taking photos at just about every major public event. I write stories, take photos, sell ads, do some page layout, drive the forklift, whatever needs to be done. I'm pretty much a jerk of all trades.

Cassandra Favre is our news editor. She's a Hancock County native who has been with the Echo for a few years now, and her family has a long history with the paper. She covers events and meetings, takes photographs and tells local people's stories and writes about her own life in her columns with a great deal of heart and wit. She also does the lion's share of the page layout now, and for that, I am forever grateful.

Jason Platz, our graphic artist, is also a Hancock County native, and is a true artist in every sense of the word. Jason not only builds most of the ads in the Echo, he also creates many of the unique design cues which you won't find at most other newspapers our size. When he's not working here, he's hard at work on an ever-changing series of projects of his own, and his entire home in Bay St. Louis is an avant-garde art installation.

Leslie Aubé (pronounced "Obi" like that Kenobi fella) is our marketing specialist. Leslie is the newest member of our team, but she has more than 25 years' experience in the business. She came to us from New Mexico this past June. While she isn't a native, she is a people person and has quickly woven herself into the fabric of the community. She is also passionate about theatre and has been in several local performances. If you need an ad or a marketing plan, do yourself a favor and give her a call.

Nathan Schuver is our business manager, taking care of the legals, classifieds and bookkeeping. Nathan came to us as a tech guy a couple of years ago from our sister paper in Branson, Mo., ended up helping out on the press and has grown to be so much more. He literally grew up in the business, since his dad is an industry veteran. He's also one of the nicest human beings you're ever likely to meet.

So that's it. That's our ground team, for now.

There will always be a need for local news coverage. The only thing that will ever change is the way we deliver it. Our delivery method may have changed a bit, but our mission remains the same.

Cassandra wrote last week that it was "the end of an era," and it was. But it's also the beginning of a new one.

We are embarking on a new journey, and I'm excited about it.

We hope you'll join us and support us along the way.

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