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An important return to Alabama ownership

By By Bob Martin, The Alabama Scene
Allow me a column very personal in nature, but one I believe is of some historical value.
The daily newspaper in Florence was a very important part of my life. In the fall of 1959 and a kid just out of high school, I enrolled at Florence State College and the next day started work at The Florence Times/Tri Cities Daily. The newspaper made it a practice of hiring college students who could attend classes in the morning and work afternoons and my employment was my first lesson in the importance of knowing people in power.
The circulation manager at the paper was a man named Hunter Allen and I had coached his oldest son in little league baseball when I was in high school. He knew I would need help to pay for college and told me the day I started at Florence State I had a job at the newspaper.
Weekdays and Saturdays we would scoop the papers off the conveyor belt of the press shortly after noon, put those destined for outside the area in the mail and deliver the rest to the hundreds of paper (mostly all boys at that time) in the Muscle Shoals area. On Saturday nights we would work into the wee hours of Sunday morning on the same task except that we would also have to insert (by hand) the weekly magazine and any advertising supplements.
It was delivering to those carriers that brought a “significant other” into my life. Two brothers of Nancy, my spouse of almost 46 years, were paper boys and that’s how we met. She would often bring us cookies when we brought the papers
The newspaper, published in Florence, also served the south side of the Tennessee River and the cities of Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals. The front page of the papers going south of the Tennessee would carry the moniker “Tri-Cities Daily,” the papers on the north side, “The Florence Times.” The Florence Times was founded in 1889 and The Tri-Cities Daily in 1907. Later the much more sensible common name “The Times/Daily,” was adopted.
In late 1962 I had the opportunity to become a reporter at the paper. I took a cut in pay because of all the side jobs we had in the mailroom, but knew I would eventually need more than that to support a new wife and hopefully a family. The next decade was one of excitement and fun. I interviewed President John F. Kennedy when he visited TVA for its 30th anniversary. I interviewed Sheriff Buford Pusser of “Walking Tall” fame about the murder of his wife and his seizure of illegal whisky bound for northwest Alabama… and much more as I moved from reporter to news editor to editor of the newspaper in 1969.
My work at the newspaper also allowed me to become involved with many people in the area. One of those persons was a lawyer by the name of Howell Heflin, who became the state’s chief justice in 1971 and brought me to Montgomery to work for the state courts, where I would spend the next 26 years.
In 1964 the Meeks family, long-time local owners of the paper, sold it to Worrell Newspapers based in Bristol, Va. for a meager price of just under $3.5 million. In 1982 The New York Times bought it and since that time has improved the product greatly, but still the profit flowed out of Alabama.
Last week, after nearly a half-century the newspaper has returned to Alabama ownership, a reversal of a nationwide trend that has seen hundreds of independently owned publications succumb to mega-media organizations which send in people to manage the properties who sometimes do not understand the local culture.
I am pleased that the newspaper, which helped shape much of my life, has been purchased by the Shelton family who own The Decatur Daily and The Moulton Advertiser. That is good news for the Shoals area. Barrett Shelton, who died in 1984 at 81, owned the Decatur paper for 60 years and was a mover and shaker in the Tennessee Valley. His son Barrett Jr. and grandson, Clint, have taken up his mantle of leadership and that has been good for journalism in Alabama.
Bob Martin is editor and publisher of The Montgomery Independent. E-mail him at: bob@montgomeryindependent.com

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