Citizen Tribune celebrates 50 years
Morristown, Tenn., paper remains committed to community news
In 1966, a group of merchants and business leaders in Morristown, Tenn., decided they'd had enough of their local newspaper. They thought they could start their own paper and do it better.
Today the Citizen Tribune celebrates its 50th anniversary of publication with a commemorative edition, a calendar, an employee luncheon and an evening community reception. Family-run Lakeway Publishers Inc. now owns more than 30 publications in Tennessee, Virginia, Florida and Missouri.
Jack Fishman, 81, is president of Lakeway. His son Mike is publisher of the Citizen Tribune and his other son, Jeff, oversees the publishing operations in Middle Tennessee.
The former manager of the local chamber of commerce, Jack had moved away to take an industrial development position in Nashville when the business community in Morristown asked him to consult about starting a new newspaper.
Morristown is located in Hamblen County in northeast Tennessee. Hamblen County is the third smallest county in the state, and many of the people who work and do business in Morristown live in adjacent counties that are only a few miles away. This geography is important to understanding the founding of the Citizen Tribune, Jack said.
"The merchants were very unhappy with the newspaper," he recalled. "It wasn't circulating outside the city limits of Morristown. And the town had begun to grow. There were a lot of subdivisions outside of the city limits."
If someone in the growth area subscribed to the old newspaper, it was delivered by mail a day late. The hot-lead-and-metal operation turned out a poor quality print job. On top of that, Jack said, people who wanted to get their wedding or ribbon-cutting photos in the paper had to pay for the engraving, which was sent off to a neighboring paper.
Jack consulted with friends in the newspaper business, and about 50 business people gathered to hear him present a prospectus.
"The strategy was to set up a corporation and sell stock," he said. "They asked me to come back and be the publisher, and I agreed. I think that morning we had about $300,000 or $400,000 committed to buy stock."
The goal was $700,000 to $800,000 in start-up money and by February 1966 the group had raised it. Between February and September they bought land, put up a building, purchased equipment including an offset printing press and hired a staff. The company was named Lakeway because the headwaters of three major lakes in the TVA system begin in the area.
"We wanted the paper to be very responsive to the local communities," Jack said. "News of organizations and athletics in the community, and community news types of things. We wanted to be very up-to-date on the technology of the day – offset printing, color. We wanted to make sure that our delivery covered the retail market."
For the first three months, Lakeway distributed about 25,000 copies a day free of charge to give everyone a chance to sample the new paper. Soon it had 10,000 paid subscribers. In the mid 1970s, the other paper closed.
Mike Fishman said his father still works six days a week; Jack says Mike won't let him retire. The paper's mission is much the same 50 years later, albeit with expansions into digital and social media.
"The biggest thing I see that we do is just to be part of the community and help grow the community economically," Mike said. "We've been able to utilize our leadership – particularly my father with his expertise in industrial recruitment."
The afternoon Citizen-Tribune publishes daily except for Saturdays, and Sunday circulation is about 25,000, Mike said. "Right now our audience is probably bigger than it's ever been because of our different platforms."
The 50th anniversary edition consists of several sections roughly divided by decade and is intended to be a celebration of community history, not just newspaper history. The staff has been working on it for several months, Mike said. Pre-orders were taken from subscribers who wanted more than one copy, and the press run will be larger than usual.
In addition, the paper has produced a 16-month calendar with historic events and photos. The calendar is free with a certain number of orders of the commemorative edition and is also available to advertisers.
Retirees, some with 30 years of experience, have been invited to join current employees for the celebratory luncheon today. Local mayors, football coaches, congressmen and senators are among those invited to the reception this evening at the local cultural arts center.
Mike believes in the future of print and digital. Some people still enjoy and prefer a printed product, while others prefer "snippets on their phones." And local advertisers in particular will always need a way to deliver their messages.
"Our model and our vision and our mission is to provide information to the community," Mike said. "I foresee that happening for a long time to come."
For more information, contact Mike Fishman at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at email@example.com. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.