Monday, June 25, 2018

Nation's largest non-metro daily, NE Mississippi Daily Journal, gets a new publisher at a time of 'upheaval'

William H. Bronson III
The nation's largest rural daily paper (if you define rural as non-metropolitan) gets a new boss today, amid questions about its future.

The new publisher of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo is William H. Bronson III, who comes to the foundation-owned paper from Dalton, Ga., where for the last 11 years he was publisher of Community Newspaper Holdings' 9,000-circulation Daily Citizen-News.

Bronson, 47, led the Dalton paper "to significant growth in both print and online initiatives," the Daily Journal reported June 5 in announcing his appointment. He succeeds Clay Foster, who left the Daily Journal in April, apparently not of his own volition.

Foster's departure came soon after the dismissal of longtime Features Editor Leslie Criss and Jackson reporter Bobby Harrison, who was the last out-of-town newspaper correspondent in the state capital. The layoffs prompted a negative reaction in the city of 39,000, and a few days later, the paper's board met, and Foster was no longer publisher. Criss is again writing for the paper. Harrison took a job with Mississippi Today, an online news outlet based in Jackson.

Mississippi journalist Mac Gordon wrote for the Jackson Clarion Ledger that the Journal "is in upheaval after severe budget cuts forced the layoff of several top reporters," but Harrison said he knew of only a few layoffs since the Great Recession, "not like other newspapers." In 2016, the paper's daily circulation was 29,000, about 19 percent below the 36,000 reported in 2010. Sunday circulation in 2016 was 59,000.

Harrison said he was told by telephone that his dismissal was "strictly due to finances," and that he had no hint it was coming. Gordon wrote, "Directors of a board that guides the revered regional paper are in flux over its future."

The Daily Journal is owned by a regional foundation created by the paper's founder, the late George McLean. It serves the same 17-county area that McLean established as the newspaper's then-ambitious service area. The foundation also owns several weeklies in the area. The daily's circulation in 2016 was 29,000, with a Sunday circulation of 59,000.

“The Journal has been so important, to not only Tupelo but to Northeast Mississippi and all of Mississippi,” Harrison said. “Mr. McLean made it a big voice throughout the region and the state. That's a proud heritage, and I hope that heritage continues.”

Criss said she is hopeful about Bronson's arrival. “I have seen an uptick in morale” at the paper, she said. “I think everybody in the community and everybody who works here are feeling hopeful.”

Bronson didn't immediately return a call seeking comment. He said in the June 5 story, “The Daily Journal is such a unique operation, especially in this day and time, and I think there’s a great opportunity to make it the best newspaper in the state of Mississippi. We want to continue to provide Tupelo and the surrounding area with the best possible daily newspaper we can produce so that as many people as possible can have access to it whether that’s in print or online. Our goal is to celebrate the community and reflect its values, but also at times to challenge it to think differently and look at things differently.”

Bronson is a journalism graduate of the University of Mississippi and a third-generation community newspaper publisher, the Daily Journal reported. Before Dalton, he was publisher and editor in Americus, Ga., advertising director in Lafayette, La., and sales manager in Appleton, Wis.

UPDATE, July 27: Bronson has hired Eddie Blakeley, longtime publisher of CNHI's Daily Independent in Ashland, Ky., and nearby weeklies, to be chief operating officer of Journal Inc.

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