Thursday, July 12, 2007

In 'Mayberry,' ex-publishers, local bigwigs starting a paper; existing paper's new owner sues to stop it

"The owners of the The Mount Airy News and The Tribune in Elkin are trying to stop the former publishers of those two papers from printing a competing newspaper Monday," reports Sherry Youngquist of the Winston-Salem Journal. "Heartland Publications LLC has filed a lawsuit against former publishers Mike Milligan and Rebel Good, saying that the men crippled its newspapers last month by taking key employees and information with them" to start a new paper called The Messenger, based in Mount Airy, population 8,000 and the hometown of Andy Griffith and model for TV's Mayberry.

"An attorney representing the new newspaper and its staff said that the group has not filed a response and has 30 days to do so," Youngquist reports. Both men resigned to protest staff cuts made by Heartland when it bought the papers last month. "The suit alleges that information critical to the newspapers, such as passwords, notebooks and circulation lists, was erased or was missing." The suit seeks an injunction and asks that the men "return business information and not employ former workers or contract with former customers." (Read more)

In an earlier story, Youngquist wrote, "Media analysts say that the startup newspaper’s success will depend a lot on the economy but also on the person bankrolling it. C. Richard Vaughn, the CEO of John S. Clark Co. Inc., is the chief financial backer of The Messenger. Vaughn’s general-contracting company does business throughout North Carolina and the Southeast. He is listed on the articles of incorporation filed with the state as the incorporator of Surry Publishing Group Inc., which will publish The Messenger. But Surry Publishing Group’s principal address belongs to Granite Development, which is operated by Vaughn’s son, C. Richard Vaughn Jr., and Craig Hunter, the chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.

"It is unclear how The Messenger’s editorial staff will handle coverage of Hunter and Surry County government. Milligan declined to be interviewed further. But the fact that The Messenger’s editorial staff is made up entirely of local newspaper people who have been in the community many years is a big advantage, said Jock Lauterer, a lecturer and director of Carolina Community Media Project at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Journalism and Mass Communication. 'It also depends on a willing readership,' he said. 'If I was going to do this, I’d start a free newspaper and circulate widely.' Milligan declined to say how the newspaper would be circulated." (Read more)

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