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A little bit about us – the history of The Weakley County Press

A little bit about us – the history of The Weakley County Press
A little bit about us - the history of The Weakley County Press | The Weakley County Press, National Newspaper Week

This photo represents the editors and correspondents of The Martin Mail. The picture was taken on Martin Mail Day, Sept. 7, 1907.
Serving Weakley County Since 1884
Over the years, the Weakley County Press has served this area with enthusiasm and dedication to delivering local news to our readers.
Our goal is to report what our communities are interested in. We’re not a national newspaper, we are LOCAL. We publish your accomplishments, your growth and your children’s activities.
Our readers’ interests are of the most of importance to us. We are here for you and we want to hear from you. During National Newspaper Week, we thought this was a good opportunity to rekindle our relationships with our readers, update the community on what has evolved here at our office and say thanks for making us who we are today.
Lynette Wagster is the current General Manager of The Weakley County Press. Wagster has been with the company more than 26 years.
She not only has a full-time role here at the office. Wagster has a face in many organizations throughout the community, where she manages to fill a second full-time role.
“The front page of The Martin Mail always read ‘For Martin First. Weakley County Next. The World Afterwards,’” Wagster commented.
“This was during the time that each town in the county had their own newspaper,” she continued. “Today our goal is to promote and support our county towns equally.
“We work closely with the Weakley County Chamber of Commerce and all of our cities and truly believe in community involvement.”
Sabrina Bates is News Editor of The Weakley County Press. Bates has been with the newspaper since 2004, when she began as a staff writer.
While she and her husband juggle two children, Bates manages to find the time to participate with community organizations she is passionate about while striving to deliver the most timely local news to Press readers.
 “Some days I feel as if I am play the role of a counselor. Other days, I fell like a legal consultant. In the end, my goal is to help people through their best and sometimes worst times. I imagine each day that I lay out the newspaper what that parent or child’s response would be when they look at the paper and see their picture in it. In the end, it still remains my goal to give our readers as much emotion in each story and picture that is put into them,” Bates said.
Linda Stockton is the current circulation and classifieds manager. She has been with The Weakley County nearly 31 years and has worked in several capacities throughout the years.
“Times have changed. The equipment we use today has made life easier. I can remember typing everything that went into the paper, blindly. Gone are the days of copying and pasting the paper together piece by piece,” Stockton shared.
In March of 2011, The Press’ sister publication, The Messenger in Union City, took over the sports department responsibilities at the Weakley County paper. Due to the number of “crossover” games between teams from Weakley and Obion County, one reporter may cover both teams, allowing other staff to expand coverage to other Weakley County teams.
Longtime award-winning Messenger sports editor Mike Hutchens oversees the management of the department and brought with him 28 years of experience in the industry as well as countless contacts in the athletic and school business.
Hutchens is a two-time president of the Tennessee Sports Writers Association and has twice been named Sports Writer of the Year in Tennessee while overseeing a staff that has won over 175 writing, design and photography awards on the state level.
Sports writer/photographer Kevin Weaks is also a decorated writer and photographer, and a strong presence in both the Weakley and Obion County circles. He has more than 20 years experience in the business.
The two, along with a handful of part-time writers and stringers, will continue the paper’s efforts to fairly and accurately cover Weakley County athletic teams as well as sports at UT Martin.
Beth Cravens, graphic designer and political cartoonist, has been with the company for more than six years and has contributed a progressive outlook to our readers.
“I enjoy educating and entertaining the readers with my cartoons as well as helping my advertisers succeed in their businesses,” Cravens said.
Staff Writer Sara Rachels has been with The Weakley County Press for seven years. Rachels is a face at many functions throughout the county from board meetings to festivals.
She has the ability to relay her compassion and sensitivity to a story.
“Getting a front-row seat to news, whether good or bad, informal or formal, and the feeling of satisfaction that it gives to deliver it – cannot be put into words, yet that is what we try to bring week in and week out,” Rachels said.
“And for me,” she continued, “it’s breaking out of a comfort zone. It’s not always comfortable, but the end result is what matters most. I’ve been told it’s a job that still carries a bit of prestige and respect even though we’ve gone beyond fedoras with little press passes on them.”
Part-time staff member Kelsey Potts is new to The Press and is committed to taking care of our Weakley County businesses.
Randy Cavin can be seen on the sidelines at area ballgames with camera in hand. He also works with local businesses on special editions.
The distribution department plays one of the most critical roles at The Press. They are responsible for getting the product out to our readers.
Wanda Tyler has been with The Weakley County Press for the last six years. Along with part-time employees, Cindy Cooper, John Rush and extra special CDS employee Patsy Tibbs, they work diligently to ensure the paper is delivered timely.
Carrier Crystal McGill has been with The Press for several years. McGill can often be seen on the city streets in Martin tossing papers every Tuesday and Thursday to her customers.
The team in place knows that without working together, our common goal cannot be achieved. That is the value of having a staff here at The Press that understands our readers are the most important piece of The Weakley County Press puzzle day in and day out.
The Press and Martin Have Grown Up Together
Written December 1985 by Robert Nanney –
Former Editor
Although it has had different owners and editors, the Weakley County Press and its forerunner, The Martin Mail, have printed continuously for over 100 years, beginning on Dec. 11, 1884.
The earliest preserved copy of the Martin Mail is on microfilm, dated April 23, 1897, and can be seen at the C.E. Weldon Public Library.
The Press’ history is long and prestigious, marked by owners and editors who played a key role in shaping the face of the City of Martin.
There were area newspapers prior to The Martin Mail (listed later) but past files likened this area to a “newspaper graveyard: until 1885 when Martin Mail owner Dr. S.F. Cayce “brought order out of chaos and displaced the lack of respect and prosperity with dignity and financial standing.” He purchased the newspaper from J.B. Gilbert, its founder.
The first specific location of The Martin Mail mentioned was its “new” location, built in April 1897 near the northwest corner of McCombs and Main streets.
Back issues recall $5,000 was spent at that time to build the brick structure and install new and modern machinery and printers’ supplies.
One story in the early 1900s said of The Mail, “It is newsy and Democratic.”
Cayce later persuaded T.L. Turner, a native of Milan, to form a partnership and write for him at The Martin Mail. Turner married his daughter.
He went to work with Cayce on Oct. 3, 1886, for $3 a week and board.
Under the partnership agreement, Dr. S.F. Cayce, along with Elder C.H. Cayce and O.F. Cayce, devoted more of their attention to publishing The Primitive Baptist, another Cayce paper, and Turner edited and managed The Mail.
The Mail was entered as second-class matter at Martin later with a subscription price of $1.50, up from the original $1 yearly price.
Turner edited The Mail with distinction for about 30 years. While writing his brief autobiography, which appeared in The Mail, Turner recalled he came to Martin in the 1880s “in its infancy, being wide open and somewhat ‘tuff.’”
A later 1897 issue records the city was 24 years old and had a population of about 2,000.
Turner wrote during those years there were from 6-10 saloons, which kept open on Sunday, as well as weekdays.
He also wrote that the walks in front of businesses in Martin were planks and there were only 2-3 brick stores.
As the City of Martin and The Mail grew together, Turner recorded he was one of the first to fight the open saloons. He was also the first to mention a water and light plant and said he was “ridiculed and scorned: for advocating such a thing.”
He also advocated building schools, graveling the streets and fought for “the cause of the sewer.”
Turner was a Martin alderman for 10-12 years and served on several important committees. When the $25,000 in bonds was approved to provide the city with electricity and water, it came after some controversy.
He recalled after the bond issue passed, some appreciative citizens bought new furniture four his house.
During his years at The Mail, Turner also served for a time as president of the Tennessee Press Association.
Turner left Martin in 1916 and took charge of the Belzoni (Miss.) Banner.
After Turner left, The Martin Mail was edited and published by Elder Claud Cayce until it was sold to the Baptist Builder Publishing Co. and was later purchased by A.J. Sander and R.L. Whitcomb on Dec. 23, 1920.
They assumed charge on the morning of Dec. 24 and soon changed the name to The Weakley County Press. The last issue with The Martin Mail flag was Dec. 31, 1920.
Whitcomb came to Martin from Memphs is 1917, the son of a newspaper publisher. His major interest as a young man was automobiles and he later opened the first Chevrolet dealership in the Martin area.
During the 20 years Whitcomb and Sander owned The Press, it was a center for community boosting. Through his many business connections, Whitcomb was instrumental in obtaining many things for Martin, including the playground equipment and wading pool, which used to be in the Illinois Central Park (now Weldon Park), Harmon Field and the Fourth of July celebration.
In 1941, after the death of Mrs. Whitcomb’s mother, The Press was sold to a Mr. Letch, who came here from Wisconsin.
During his tenure here, Whitcomb is also credited, along with J. Martin Adams, with convincing the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, to locate its West Tennessee campus on the grounds of the old Hall-Moody Institute in Martin in 1927.
According to notes provided by Martin historian Col. Jim Corbitt, Sander was known for years as a hand typesetter and later the Linotype operator at The Mail and The Press.
Sander was born in Sturgeon, Mo., Jan. 12, 1885, and died in Martin, Oct. 12, 1969.
Sander was in the newspaper business for about 65 years. He started his career in Brookings, S.D., where he married.
His career began at The Mail under the editorship of Cayce and Turner and extended through Whitcomb and on to other owners.
He was the father of Miss Margret Sander, Martin, who has been personnel director of Milan Arsenal for many years.
We have a gap after 1941 when the paper was sold to Mr. Letch. Other names linked with the newspaper are Barker and White and a Mr. Burns until The Press was purchased in 1947 by James W.R. White.
That year he began a 16-year career at The Press until it was sold in 1963.
During those years White also was owner of The Southern Standard newspaper in McMinnville.
White had more recently moved to McMinnville, where he died in January of 1984.
In 1963, Ed S. Critchlow purchased The Press and it remains in the Critchlow family.
It would be impossible to locate the names of all of the other editors during the last 100 years, aside from the owner-editors already listed.
General Manager Randal Benderman was with The Press 18 years, heading up the business end of the paper.
Beginning with W.R. White, the list includes Woodie Whaley, Jim Wooten, Harvey Gardner, Ed Chenette, Lance King, Dennis Richardson, Robert Nanney, Joe Lofaro, herb Smith, Robert Barber, Renee Robey, Laura Lytle, Tracy Sharp and Sabrina Bates.
Wooten became a nationally known ABC News TV correspondent.
Chenette had by far the longest association with the newspaper, beginning his career in the mid-40s and ending it in July of 1980.
The Press is located at 235 Lindell St. in downtown Martin. Its previous location was farther south on Lindell in the south side of what is now Hair by Pate and Co.
Note: Robert Nanney is currently a Chair of the Communications Department at the University of Tennessee at Martin.

WCP 10.06.11

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