Leatherman recalls good ole days of newspaper business in Shreveport

Shreveport native Merrilee Streun Leatherman is an acclaimed journalist and community leader who has won numerous national and regional writing, editing and design awards – including United Press International first place and National Federation of Press Women first place.

Leatherman is listed in Marquis International Who’s Who of Women and the International Who’s Who of Professional Women. She was recognized as IBC International Woman of the Year in 1991 and 1992 and an Outstanding Young Woman in America in 1978.

She worked at the Shreveport Journal as an associate women’s editor, assistant state editor, op-ed page editor, city and wire desks, news reporter, and medical features writer. She was also the Medical Publications Coordinator at Schumpert Medical Center and editor of a peer-reviewed scientific medical journal for 12 years.

Leatherman co-founded the first desktop publishing service bureau in Shreveport. From 1990-2016, she worked in freelance communications, ghostwriting professional papers and projects for clients throughout the U.S.

Leatherman (class of 1960) is one of six individuals – five alumni and one faculty member — who will be inducted into the C.E. Byrd 2022 Hall of Fame. The other inductees include Jericho Brown (class of 1994), a Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry; Stephen D. Porter (class of 1973), a decorated artist and educator; William Peatross (class of 1961), a successful attorney and community leader; Cynthia Peterson (class of 1975), a published biochemist and LSU professor; and former faculty member Roy Thomas.

Every two years, the C.E. Byrd Alumni Association honors former students and faculty members who illustrate great success in their careers, communities, and made an impact during their time at C.E. Byrd High School. This year’s Hall of Fame Banquet will be held Thursday, Oct. 6th, 2022, with the cocktail hour starting at 6:00 p.m. and the ceremony beginning at 6:30 p.m. at East Ridge Country Club.

There were some incredible writers and editors at the Shreveport Journal. Who and what do you remember the most from those days?

Two of my favorite writers at the Shreveport Journal were Marge Fischer and Sally Reese. Marge was Shreveport’s Irma Bombeck and so much more! She was a super flexible writer. Sally was both a good writer and editor. Neither of these writers had to “pad” a story . . . they were trustworthy writers and caring reporters. Back then, we worked to provide truthful, in-depth factual coverage about important topics. It’s hard to describe the feeling you had when you learned that one of your stories had made a difference in someone’s life. We weren’t looking for accolades in our writing . . .  just knowing that you had done a good job made all the difference in the world. 

Working at the newspaper was so much fun in the 60s and 70s . . . we were a family to the extent that the staff set up a nursery in the newsroom when I adopted my son . . . diaper service, formula, the works! Whenever I went out on a story someone in the newsroom took care of Todd. We didn’t have maternity leave in those days but what the Journal provided for me was even better!

After the Journal closed, both Marge and Sally came to work for me at Schumpert Medical Center and transitioned into being excellent medical editors.

The Internet has changed the way we get our information today. What is the biggest effect it has had on journalism?

People pop on the Internet today thinking they are getting factual information about what is happening in this world. You CAN find good information on the Internet, but it’s sad that most people think the Internet information is trustworthy and accurate.  It isn’t and we all suffer because of that. The Internet is a blessing and a curse. I just pray that people will come to understand that and start to research and question more than they do now.

How did Byrd High School help prepare you for your journalistic success?

Betty Harrel was an excellent journalism teacher, and she was good at focusing on talents she spotted in her students. I was the news editor for the High Life and we had an amazing staff . . . many became lifelong friends and so many would have fit right in at the Journal! The High Life came first when it came to deadlines and we understood that. I can remember a police car being on standby to rush those of us in pep squad or drum corps to Monroe so that we could put the High Life to bed before performing at an out-of-town football game! 

What are some of your fondest memories from Byrd?

So many lifelong friendships began at Byrd and it’s amazing to sift through these memories after so many decades. My teachers tried hard to focus on each student and our needs. The hardest teacher I ever had was Mlle. LeBlanc! She was tough but she said we’d be ready for college after her class — and we were. I was one of the lucky ones . . . she taught both French and English my senior year and I got her for both classes.

How did you feel when you were told of your induction into the Hall of Fame? 

This is such an honor, but I will have to admit that my first thought was that I knew a hundred people who deserved this more than I do! Anything I’ve accomplished at Byrd is because I’ve always had a Byrd family and team I could ask to help, and they do. I couldn’t do any of this just by myself. I’ve been blessed by loving my career and being recognized for those achievements. I’ve also been recognized for many things I’ve done with our community nonprofits, and I hope being inducted into the Hall of Fame will highlight the need for volunteers for nonprofits in our community.

If you and your son wrote a book together, what would the title be?

My son, Todd, has published five Sci-Fi/ fantasy books, a book of puns and has three more books scheduled to come out this fall. I asked him what he would say. “All Dressed Up, and Nowhere to Glow. A Move in the Light Direction.”  I’d probably say something like, “We Made it!”

What do you like to do to relax?

I like to read but sometimes it’s also just nice to sit back, relax, and review your past. That can take you on some real “journeys of the mind.”

For more information, visit byrdhighalumni.org/hall-of-fame or the C.E. Byrd Alumni Association’s Facebook page. Tickets are available to the public and can be purchased via the website or by calling the school directly.

Contact Harriet at sbjharriet@gmail.com