Paxton Buys Batesville Guard, State's Last Non-Chain Family-Owned Daily

Paxton Buys Batesville Guard, State's Last Non-Chain Family-Owned Daily

The last non-chain family-owned daily newspaper in Arkansas, The Batesville Daily Guard, is no longer independent, bought last week by the Paxton Media Group of Paducah, Kentucky.

The Guard — owned for eight decades by the O.E. Jones family of Batesville — announced the sale, for an undisclosed price, in a front-page article Friday evening. The paper, published continuously since 1877, began printing in Jonesboro Sunday at the plant of The Sun, one of Paxton's other four papers in the state. Paxton also owns the Searcy Daily Citizen, the Russellville Courier and the Paragould Daily Press.

Paxton has nearly 40 daily papers, a television station and numerous weeklies in 10 states.

Many current employees are expected to keep their jobs, but production tasks have been consolidated at Paxton's operations in Jonesboro. The company offered no estimate of how many jobs that consolidation will affect.

Speculation about a possible sale was rampant after the death in January of Dr. O.E. Jones, a principal owner and publisher of the paper for years. Jones' wife, Pat, retired as The Guard's general manager last month after 46 years with the business.

On March 29, under the headline "The Changing of the Guard," the paper said "the prestige of being the last family-owned daily in the state is something we've taken pride in. So when the day arrives with the announcement of new ownership, we want you to know what you are getting with us… dedication, loyalty and spirit."

For all its scope, Paxton emphasizes its own family ownership, with fourth- and fifth-generation family members managing the private company, which has estimated revenue of some $340 million a year. The Guard boasts a 12-month average paid circulation of 7,159, according to the latest figures from the Arkansas Press Association.

"We are grateful that the Jones family has entrusted us with the stewardship of the Batesville Daily Guard," David Paxton, president and CEO of the chain, said in a statement. "It is an award-winning newspaper with a proud history of serving Independence County. This business combination will provide the financial security to ensure the newspaper will continue to serve the community with quality local journalism."

David Mosesso, the Sun publisher who will also oversee the Guard, told Arkansas Business that the Batesville market is a good fit for Paxton. "Batesville is a great market and The Guard is a great newspaper," he said, emphasizing the size of the market and its proximity to Paxton's other newspaper properties in the state. "We have some great employees in Batesville and I know they're excited to see what this next chapter brings." He said he couldn't disclose any purchase details. "Newspapers are our core business and we take that role seriously by producing the best possible community newspaper serving our readers and our advertisers."

The Jones family was represented in the negotiations by Randy Cope of Cribb, Greene and Cope of Helena, Montana. Cope, who works out of Neosho, Missouri, manages sales and appraisals for daily newspapers and weekly publication groups for the consulting firm. He didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Angelia Roberts, executive director of advertising and editorial for The Guard, said she would let the paper's article from Friday speak for itself. Mosesso told Arkansas Business that printing The Guard from Jonesboro makes economic sense. "We have consolidated all production into our production center here in Jonesboro," he said. "We printed our first edition here in Jonesboro last night. Operating a press is very expensive, and these are the economies that must be taken advantage of in order to thrive."

The Jones family took ownership of The Guard in 1932 when Oscar Eve Jones II and his wife, Josephine Phillips Carroll Jones, bought it from the Trevathan family, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. After Jones' death in 1949, O.E. Jones III helped his mother modernize The Guard, and he became publisher even as he practiced dentistry in an office next door to the newspaper headquarters.

"The Jones family was a major force in the Arkansas newspaper industry," Ashley Wimberley, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, told Arkansas Business. "Pat served as APA president in 1995 and her late father-in-law, O.E. Jones [II], was also president in 1934." The press association recently profiled Pat Jones at her retirement, noting that her son Ross provides art and computer expertise at the paper, and her daughter-in-law Lua runs the paper's online presence.

"We know The Batesville Daily Guard, which has been an APA award-winning newspaper for decades, will remain in good hands with Paxton Media Group," Wimberley said.

Roy Ockert, a longtime journalist and educator who edited The Guard for 13 years and also worked for Paxton as an editor in Russellville and Jonesboro, said it made sense for his old paper to end up with his old chain. He said consolidation of production and printing operations has become standard in the beleaguered daily newspaper industry, and that Paxton papers already have copy editing and page design centers in Paducah and in Owensboro, Kentucky.

"The Guard is a nearby daily and an afternoon paper, so it could be accommodated for printing here," said Ockert, who lives in Jonesboro. "The Jonesboro press was already printing the Paragould, Searcy and Walnut Ridge papers."