Note this story is from the 140th special edition in today’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.
As Tupelo has grown, so has the Daily Journal.
From its roots as a weekly newspaper started in 1870, the current Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal has evolved into the region’s largest full-fledged multimedia operation while maintaining its commitment to improve the communities it serves.
“We are in the business of building community in Northeast Mississippi, and local news and advertising are critical to building community and to the success of businesses and citizens throughout our region,” said Billy Crews, chairman and CEO of Journal Inc. “This was true in 1870, 1970 and will be of even greater importance and value in 2070.”
Today’s Daily Journal is only one part of the portfolio of Journal Inc. Its family of newspapers now includes the Itawamba County Times, the Monroe Journal, the New Albany News-Exchange, the Southern Sentinel in Ripley, the Southern Advocate in Ashland, the Chickasaw Journal and the Pontotoc Progress.
Online, the company reaches a worldwide audience through its websites – NEMS360.com and five affiliated with the weekly newspapers – while Journal Logistics provides third-party property leasing and management services.
“It’s all about serving customers – readers and advertisers – in ways that are helpful and convenient to them,” said Publisher and President Clay Foster.
“Our audiences are large and growing with our newspapers and online sites reaching more than 80 percent of the households in our primary market area.”
For the last several years, the Journal has bucked the industry trend of falling circulation. For seven of the last nine years, circulation has grown for the daily to a steady 35,000 copies, and for the weekies, 23,000.
And the company has committed to a new press, anticipating a continued strength in the print operation while building the digital side of its business.
“We’re excited about our present and future challenges and opportunities,” said Foster.
Added Crews: “We are a successful company because of the growth and success of Tupelo, Lee County and Northeast Mississippi. And we think we have contributed to the community’s success by setting a positive tone and pursuing a progressive agenda of improving the quality of life for all people.”
The newspaper dates back to 1870 and the Lee County Journal, from which today’s newspaper is a direct descendant. It was two years later that the named changed to the Tupelo Journal.
Then, as now, the newspaper displayed a spirit for building the community. Supported by the editorial leadership of Capt. John Miller, who ran the paper from 1877 until 1892, Tupelo won a spirited competition to become a two-railroad town.
Miller’s regular columns advocating the addition of a Memphis-Birmingham line, said historian Vaughn Grisham, had “the trappings of a religious crusade.”
In 1898, Capt. James Kincannon became editor and, like those before and after him, used the newspaper to prime the pump of self-development. The town’s economy had not met expectations for agricultural growth, and Kincannon sounded the call for a diversified economy.
When his son, F.L. Kincannon, took over, another familiar theme emerged in editorial coverage: roads. Backed by the Journal’s support and coverage, Lee County in March 1910 approved a bond issue that allowed construction of Mississippi’s first hard-surfaced road.
Two years later, the city of Tupelo issued $50,000 to pave its streets with a rock-asphalt mixture known as macadam.
The other major news of the decade was the start of World War I. The Journal editorialized in support of Woodrow Wilson’s decision to go to war. “We must win,” the newspaper said in an Aug. 3, 1917, editorial.
From 1921 to 1945, Tupelo underwent several changes that altered the course of its history, and that of the Journal: the coming of electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority in 1933, the purchase of the newspaper by George McLean in 1934 and the deadly tornado of April 1936.
It was under McLean, a sociologist and former professor, that the Journal became intertwined with the city. McLean saw the newspaper as a tool for building community in all areas, and he used it that way.
“The good newspaper,” he wrote, “adopts as one of its major objectives the unobtrusive establishment of a definite tone in its community built around high ethical standards, a cooperative spirit, a broadly based tolerance among all groups, a yearning for personal and community growth, a belief in God, service to man and hope for a better tomorrow.”
But McLean was more than just a newspaper owner; he was a community leader, an advocate for regional development, education and economic growth. Among his legacies are the Community Development Foundation, which he helped found, and the CREATE Foundation, which he set up to become the owner of Journal stock so the newspaper would remain in local hands.
He and the newspaper were also instrumental in successfully pushing for improved highways in the state, and in ensuring a relatively trouble-free desegregation of the city’s schools in 1970.
Upon his death in 1983, his wife, Anna Keirsey McLean became chairman of the board of the newspaper, and in 1989, Crews became publisher of the newspaper that identifies itself as “dedicated to the service of God and mankind.”
Some information for this story came from a story by Joe Rutherford for the 125th anniversary edition on May 21, 1995.
Michael Tonos/NEMS Daily Journal