Jim Morriss, Springdale's Newsman for a Half-Century, Dies at 80

Jim Morriss, Springdale's Newsman for a Half-Century, Dies at 80
Jim Morriss

Jim Morriss, who as a jack-of-all-trades reporter and editor led the Springdale newspaper from the days of molten lead type to the age of computers and a 24-hour news cycle, died April 12 at age 80.

His half-century in the news business began when he was 13, sweeping the press room and melting lead for linotype machines at the Springdale News, and continued until his retirement in 2003 as executive editor of the Morning News.

Along the way, he took thousands of pictures, often at accident and crime scenes, covered the police beat, wrote sports articles and editorials, and became a beloved but hard-driving boss. Over the years he covered the population and business explosion that transformed northwest Arkansas, and he also witnessed a revolution in the news business, from the black-and-white world of the 1950s to the days of digital photography and the internet.

Retired and active journalists, police officials and business leaders offered up praise.

"There wasn't ever anyone who was more dedicated to Springdale or the news," said Joy Drummond, a classmate of Morriss' at Springdale High who operated Washington County Abstract Co. in Springdale for many years, according to the website of Sisco Funeral Home, which is handling arrangements.

Gene Kincy, the former publisher of the Springdale News, Morning News and the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, said Morriss' dedication was so strong that he had to be threatened with firing before he would take a break. "I told him ‘I'm going to have to fire you if you don't go home and get some rest, and I'll hire you back when you do.' " 

With one ear constantly tuned to the police scanner, Morriss often arrived at accident scenes as first responders were arriving, and he was as prized for his accuracy as he was for speed. "He would get everything that was newsworthy accurate," said Mary McKinney, whose father, Charles McKinney, was Springdale's mayor for 20 years. "My dad… said he was very accurate and thorough."

Kincy agreed. "He put out a good newspaper every day. He put out an accurate newspaper."

Morriss' longtime friend John C. Hughes, who edited the Daily World in Aberdeen, Washington, and is now that state's historian, said Morriss exemplified community journalism. "I once spent a month in Springdale on a special assignment for Donrey Media Group and watched Jim interact with his staff and his community. He was a gifted writer, a first-rate editor and a world-class human being. Jim had a gentle touch, but he could spot BS at 100 paces. Your community has lost one of the finest journalists in Arkansas history."

Morriss graduated from the University of Arkansas and was inducted into the Lemke Journalism Alumni Society's Hall of Honor in 2003. Roy Reed, the longtime UA journalism professor and former correspondent for The New York Times, described him as a good friend to the journalism department and its students. "He was always ready to help young people get started in the fine art of reporting," the Sisco website said.

Bill Rogers, vice president of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce, described Morriss as a "newspaperman's newspaperman." Rogers said Morriss commanded great respect from all his employees, and several praised his influence.

"He showed us how to put out a quality product," said Dave Edmark, city editor for The Springdale News and The Morning News. "He encouraged us to be competitors and to be thorough. He was a repository of information, history, details and lessons. He was our mentor."

Longtime advertising director Danny Dotson said Morriss' feel for community newspapering extended beyond the newsroom. "If anything came up at the newspaper — dealing with people, customers, readers, other employees — he always had the experience and mainly the wisdom to help you."

Morriss was preceded in death by one daughter, Laneta Carol Morriss, known as Laney, who became a captain in the Springdale Police Department, perhaps because of interest sparked by listening to her father's scanner and accompanying him to police scenes. Morriss is survived by his son James L. Morriss III of Bossier City, Louisiana, known since boyhood as Trey, and by his daughter Shana Clark of Springdale, as well as five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. The Sisco Funeral Chapel website also mentioned a companion, Marian Catron of Springdale.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Cross Church in Springdale, with burial to follow in Fairview Memorial Gardens.

"In my book, he was one of the best," Kincy said, getting in his final assessment of Jim Morriss. "He was the best editor I've ever seen, and I've seen a lot."