Featured leader: John Mullen


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John Mullen

Veteran journalist John Mullen is the editor of The Islander, a Gulf Coast Media newspaper covering Gulf Shores, Orange Beach and Fort Morgan, Ala.

He has spent his entire career working for papers in Alabama. Mullen started in the newspaper business in 1983 selling advertising for the Greene County Democrat in Eutaw, Ala., but his love was sports writing. He went to the Arab Tribune for 21 months after that, then to the Decatur Daily for nine years where he became a copy editor/page designer after five years as a sportswriter.

Then Mullen took a job at the Huntsville Times for 14 years doing the same job before receiving a buyout from Newhouse in July of 2009. He went to work the next Monday in Decatur again, where he stayed until May of 2010.

Today, as editor of The Islander, Mullen has been running a one-man show. He moved to the area to retire, but both he and his wife still work.

Mullen paints a picture of the unique shoreline communities he covers and sheds light on what it’s like to be the sole editor in charge of directing news operations for such a colorful region:

NL: What are the unique aspects of your area of coverage?

JM: I live and work in the midst of a popular tourism, resort destination, that decidedly still has a hometown feel amongst the locals In Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, Ala.

There are about 5,000 fulltime residents in Orange Beach and when you go to the stores, the restaurants, the bars, the drug store, you know everybody who works there and they know you. In the summer we can have as many as 100,000 people in town at one time and that’s just Orange Beach. Gulf Shores is 10 miles away and has a population of about 10,000. It can also accommodate about 100,000 when the condos and hotels and rental houses are all full. Our biggest issue, as you might imagine, is traffic. There are only two ways in and out, and only two north-south beach connections in the towns — one in each.

NL: What are some of the more unusual stories that your paper has covered?

JM: We’re home to the largest artificial reef in the country — and probably the world — off the coast of Alabama. Walter Marine (a maker of artificial reefs) has sunken more than 30,000 items from cars to planes to ships to an underwater playground. The most unique was a 271-foot former cargo ship Walter sank about 18 miles off the coast, which was witnessed by about 400 boats and has fast become a popular diving location.

NL: If you could have one wish granted regarding the operation of your paper, what would it be? JM: A reporter would be nice. I am literally a one-man newsroom. I’m the editor, reporter, photographer, page designer, copy editor, proofreader and anything else that comes up. We have a separate sports staff, people/feature writing staff and several niche publications related to tourism that I am also responsible for contributing to (not solely, they are run by others) either by writing stories or editing or both. My office is in my home.

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