Madison County Newspapers
The Danielsville Monitor
The Madison County Journal
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
History of The Madison County Journal
JOURNAL HAD UNUSUAL ORIGINS
It seems strange that a stoplight would spark the formation of a newspaper.
But that is precisely why The Madison County Journal came into being in October of 1986.
With neigbors complaining about the frequent sound of sirens at a busy intersection, Journal founder Frank Gillispie battled to locate a traffic light at the precarious spot in southern Madison County, embarking on a journalistic trek that would affect many lives.
In 1965, Gillispie's mother, Nancy Gillispie, was killed in a car accident on Old Hwy. 29 between Athens and Danielsville while coming home from working the night shift at an Athens plant.
Twenty-three years later, Gillispie would think of her as he tried to find a remedy for driving hazards at the intersection at Hwy. 29, the Hwy. l06 Spur and Glenn Carrie Road.
When the state Department of Transportation had completed widening Hwy. 29 to a four-lane road all the way to the Madison County line, they removed the intersection's caution light, failing to reinstall it when the project was complete, he said.
"It didn't occur to me to start a newspaper, really," Gillispie said. "It occured to me we needed a traffic light."
Gillispie started a campaign, of sorts, for a traffic light, first by calling local papers and radio stations about the many wrecks that were occuring there. But he said he got little response.
A BEDROOM PROJECT
With the financial help of Helen Fortson, who owned and operated Fortson's Grocery at the intersection, and several other merchants who bought advertising, Gillispie composed a newsletter on his Commodore 64 computer in his bedroom.
Five hundred copies of the four-page newsletter, called "The Dogsoboro Journal" were printed at Kinko's on 11 x 17' paper folded twice. They were placed around the community and were free to the public.
"We announced it as a new newspaper, but we really didn't know what would happen," Gillispie said.
The first issue was dated Oct. 17, 1986, with the paper's prominent headline reading, "Deathtrap in Dogsboro," above an editiorial about the the need for a traffic light.
A second newsletter, this time eight pages, was printed in the same format. About this time, Gillispie said he received some assistance from another acquaintance, Phil Sanderlin, an editor and columnist for The Athens Observer.
"Phil took me in and showed me what a layout sheet looked like," Gillispie said, laughing. "Because I didn't know anything." Sanderlin also let him observe how a newspaper was put together.
He took some layout and paste-up materials home, installing them in a shed in back of his house. The third issue of The Dogsboro Journal was printed in tabloid newspaper format at Greater Georgia Printers in Crawford.
"At this time, the Journal was printed bi-weekly," Gillispie said. "I was still composing it on the small computer in my room and I spent one week selling ads to finance the next issue, and one week doing the writing for it."
"Six months later, with the help of then State Representative Louie Clark and other county officials, we won the battle and got a traffic light," Gillispie said.
By this time, The Dogsboro Journal had taken on several other projects, including encouraging support for the fledgling Chamber of Commerce and the building of a new county library.
"It seemed to me the Journal needed to incorporate a county-wide name if it was going to be a county-wide paper," Gillispie said of the decision to change the paper's name to The Madison County Journal.
A MAINSTREET CONNECTION
It was about this time that he became acquainted with MainStreet Newspapers and Buffington family. He began traveling to Jefferson to have the paper printed at The Jackson Herald's printing press.
"Mr. (Herman) Buffington was a great help with educating me in journalism," Gillispie said. "I never had a formal course in jounalism My education was all trial and error with the paper, using the advice of others and textbooks to learn by."
JOURNAL MOVES TO TOWN SQUARE
In 1990, the Journal moved from Gillispie's home to a small office on the square in Danielsville.
"I felt the paper was getting to the point where it needed a central location for people," he said. It was about this time that Carlene Peavy "just came walking into the office one day" he said, right after he had put the newspaper sign up over the door.
Peavy had just suffered the death of a daughter and had moved to the area to be near her mother and step-father, Evelyn and John Scoggins.
She had the paste-up and commercial art experience The Journal desperately needed. Gillispie told her he didn't have the money to pay her a salary, but Peavy was willing to work anyway, saying once that she "just felt like the little paper needed her."
Things were still very primitive indeed at this time in The Journal office. Peavy often related how she melted the wax for paste up "in a frying pan over a one-eye burner and painted it on the layout sheets with a paint brush."
Later Gillispie purchased a broken down wax machine for $50 from his friends at The Athens Observer and ordered the parts to fix it.
The Journal's circulation continued to rise, with the paper gaining a reputation for not being afraid to report on controversial issues.
"Everything was always learning by messing up for us," Gillispie laughed. "And we when we did 'mess up,' we did so before the whole county, no question about it."
He remembers that in one of the very first issues of The Dogsboro Journal, a Merchant's and Farmer's ad came out advertising the bank's name as "Merchant's and Framers."
"John Terrell called me up to tell me about the mistake and said, 'it's true I might make more money as a carpenter,'" Gillispie remembers.
"Everybody pretty much knew I didn't know what I was doing," he said.
JOURNAL OFFICE MOVED TWICE MORE
In 1993, The Journal office was moved down Hwy. 29 to the building that now houses Piche 1/2Realty next to Brown Funeral Home. The newspaper moved to its current location, a pre-World War II house next to Graham Law Firm in 1995.
Numerous employees came and went, including ad salesman Sal Verelli (or "Blackeagle" as he was more commonly known), Jana Cox Fountain, Margie Richards, Charles Richards, Angela Shubert, Marilyn Bridges, Ellen Ferrell, Dena Watkins, Rita Hawks and Keith Mallonee.
"When we started, desktop computers had just been developed and were quite primitive," Gillispie said. "We were one of the first to utilize desktop publishing...The newspaper industry has been revolutionized by the desktop over the last 10 to 12 years, since the birth of The Journal."
GILLISPIE SELLS THE JOURNAL
Gillispie sold The Journal to John Scoggins and Pat Graham in February of 1997, realizing that money just could not be made with one publication and coming to terms with the fact that The Journal had not been much of a financial success up to that point.
The paper continued to struggle financially under the new owners, who opted to sell The Journal six months later to MainStreet Newspapers in August of 1997.
PAPER GETS A NEW LOOK
Numerous changes were made to The Journal under the management of MainStreet Newspapers.
The paper's production was moved from Danielsville to the MainStreet central office in Jefferson. Color was added to section fronts, while news and sports coverage were expanded.
Bert Brantley, news editor, and Angela Gary, managing editor, helped direct the changes, with help from reporter and officer manager Margie Richards, ad salesman Charles Richards, reporter Marilyn Bridges, ad salesman Argie Gillespie and delivery man Jim Smith.
In February of 1998, Zach Mitcham was named the editor of The Journal, a position he still holds.
Under MainStreet Newspapers, The Journal has more than tripled its circulation - from 1,000 to 3,500.
Readership skyrocketed during the final two years of the 20th century as the paper offered indepth coverage and editorial comment about Madison County's volatile political climate, which included three recall attempts on county commissioners, who filed suits and countersuits against each other.
In 1998, The Journal took a strong stand against a move to eliminate the district commissioners in favor of a sole commissioner, a measure the paper maintained would strip voters of small community representation at the county level. The vote to maintain district representation narrowly passed.
The paper also focused on the problem of stray animals in Madison County, covering efforts to start a county animal shelter. A front page feature article in October of 1998 highlighted the plight of one abused and abandoned dog, while addressing the need for a local shelter.
That article motivated one citizen to take action. The person approached the group seeking to start a shelter and provided enough financial backing to bring the dream to fruition in December of 2002.
JOURNAL RECOGNIZED AT STATE, NATIONAL LEVEL
The Madison County Journal has received numerous awards since 1998 from both the Georgia Press Association and the National Newspaper Association for its news coverage.
On three occasions, The Journal has been recognized as one of the top three small, weekly newspapers in the state of Georgia. The Journal was also recognized by the NNA for having the "best writing" in the nation among small papers in 2000.
The paper has been recognized by the GPA for community service, front page design, photography, religion and business coverage, lifestyle coverage, editorial writing, sports coverage and newspaper promotion.
Staff members have won individual awards as well, including reporter Margie Richards, who has been recognized for feature writing; editor Zach Mitcham, recognized for column writing, sports writing and photography; and sports reporter Ben Munro, honored for sports writing.
GILLISPIE PROUD OF JOURNAL'S SUCCESS
When asked how he feels about the paper since the four-newspaper chain owned by the Buffington family purchased it, Gillispie said he is pleased to see how far The Journal has come.
"I see things we never had the resources to do," said Gillispie, who continues to write a column and cover various meetings for the paper. "And I take pride in the fact that I can lay claim to having started it - I guess it's part of my legacy."
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