‘We specialize in human-interest stories’

Nov 1, 2016

The Williamson Herald: A champion for the community it serves


By Teri Saylor
Special to Publishers’ Auxiliary

Growing up on the business end of newspapers, Derby Jones never dreamed he’d spend his adult years attending local events as a reporter, taking photos and writing stories for a small, hometown weekly. But that’s what you do when you are the owner and publisher of a young, hyper local newspaper. He has embraced the challenge, and he’s all in.

With ink and newsprint in his DNA, Jones was born to be a newspaperman. A fourth-generation publisher, his childhood memories are imprinted with images of daily editions of the Johnson City Press rolling off the printer when his grandfather, Carl A. Jones, was publisher. His father, Tim Jones, was general manager, and his uncle, Johnny Jones, was editor. But Jones’ roots run even deeper than that. His great grandfather, along with his grandfather and another partner, founded a company called Press Incorporated in 1934 and started publishing the Johnson City Press. They sold that company to the Sandusky Newspaper Group in 2001.

Jones wouldn’t realize until years after starting his career in sales and marketing with The Tennessean of Nashville in 1994 that he was meant to eat, live and breathe his own community newspaper. He had been with The Tennessean nearly 13 years when he was offered a chance to share ownership of a start-up newspaper in Williamson County with a group of local businessmen.

The Herald was not the first newspaper in Williamson County, but residents there were used to reading a local paper they could claim as their own—one that covered the day-to-day comings and goings in their community. For nearly 200 years, The Franklin Review Appeal was a beloved county-seat newspaper. Founded in 1813, it had been sold to Morris Communications in the early 1980s, according to Jones. Around that same time, The Brentwood Journal started up and for 20 years, covered the community that sat right next to Franklin until 2004, when Gannett bought both newspapers and folded them into its larger Nashville daily, The Tennessean, which eventually dissolved them in 2014.

It wasn’t long after Gannett bought the newspapers in Franklin and Brentwood that local citizens felt a void.

“Readers missed the Brentwood Journal, and the Review Appeal, and they missed having an intensely local newspaper, so in 2005, four local businessmen started the Williamson Herald,” Jones said.

After six months, the Herald’s founders were ready to get out of the business. A group of business partners offered Jones and his father an opportunity to join them in the purchase. Eventually, the father and son team bought out their partners and ran the newspaper together. Last summer, Tim Jones died, and today, Derby is the majority owner with his dad’s estate holding the rest.

The 10,000 circulation newspaper comes out weekly, on Wednesdays, and serves a general population of 211,672 in Williamson County, which the U.S. Census calls the fastest growing county in Tennessee and one of the fastest growing in the entire country. Williamson County is a neighbor to Nashville, country music’s mecca and the capitol of Tennessee. Among the wealthiest and highest educated places in the USA, Williamson County is known for dishing out heaping doses of Southern hospitality. Steeped in Civil War history, the county is the site of three major battles where the Confederacy suffered heavy casualties.

The area attracts both families and retirees and health care providers. Its location and affluence attracts businesses, industries and jobs. Nissan has located its North American headquarters there. Williamson County is routinely listed on a variety of top 10 lists of places to live and do business. In September, the National Newspaper Association celebrated its 130th Annual Convention in Franklin, TN, the seat of Williamson County.

This year, the newspaper is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and Jones has been there almost every step of the way. As much as he loves the paper, he admits there are always challenges.

“Even after 10 years, circulation is a challenge,” he said. “We’re at 10,000, and growth is tough. We do a really good job of putting news online daily, but it’s even challenging to grow our online subscriptions.”

His efforts to increase his audience include a twice-daily e-blast delivered into the inboxes of all 10,000 subscribers. Southern Exposure, a bi-monthly lifestyle magazine, complements the Herald’s regular news coverage.

The newspaper’s advertising base is mostly local businesses. Chain retailers don’t advertise as much.

“I can walk down the street and talk with our local businesses, build relationships and do well with advertising. I don’t do as well dealing with the agencies in Atlanta or New York,” he said. “The Tennessean eats our lunch in the insert and preprint business, but we are making inroads.”

The Tennessean covers Williamson County, but has no office there.

“What sets us apart from The Tennessean is the fact that I live here. I’m involved in the community,” Jones said. “We have an open door policy. We sponsor events and go to them. We’re hyper local. We’re the hometown paper, and we’re truly a mom-and-pop operation.”

Jones and his wife, Cassie, who is the newspaper’s director of sales and advertising, work, live and shop in Williamson County. They are active in community events, and their two children attend local schools. Along the way, they have built close relationships with their readers and many residents of Williamson County.

“We are a community-minded newspaper, and while we will do investigations, we don’t consider ourselves an investigative newspaper,” he said. “We specialize in human interest stories—good stories about people who don’t always get recognized.”

Jones’ top goals for 2017 are to increase circulation by 10 percent, develop zoned editions, increase revenue and continue to grow online readership. The Williamson Herald uses its social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter, to drive readers to its website, and in mid-October had 4,820 “likes” on Facebook and 8,190 followers on its main Twitter profile, as well as 1,882 followers on its special sports Twitter profile.

Jones is proud of the role The Herald plays in the community it serves.

“We delve deeper into local topics and tell the stories that often don’t get told,” he said. “We are a champion for this community.” © Teri Saylor 2016


Name of newspaper: The Williamson Herald.

Publisher/owner: Derby Jones.

How long have you been owner and publisher of the Williamson Herald? 10 years.

What is its circulation? 10,000.

What is its publication schedule? Thursday. We are weekly publication.

Does the newspaper have a mission statement or a motto? We are “The Voice of America’s Greatest County.”

How many people are employed at the Herald? Approximately 25.

What is the most rewarding aspect of owning and managing a weekly newspaper? The interesting and amazing people I meet every day. Being a voice for my community.

What are your biggest challenges? The myth that print is dead; labor issues; small business challenges—providing insurance and benefits and attracting top talent.

What are your top goals for 2016-2017? Increase circulation—10% of our county is growing; develop zone editions for each city in the county; increase revenue; continued online readership increases.

What are the Herald’s most distinguishing characteristics? We are locally owned and offer hyper local news and content. We cover the community and are involved; we care. We live, eat and breathe this community. Loyal readership. Reputation for fair and honest reporting.

How do you view the Herald’s role in the community it serves? We tell the stories that often don’t get told. We delve deeper into local topics. We are a champion for this community and use the paper to promote it and better the community.


Phone: 615-790-6465

Email: djones@williamsonherald.com

Website: www.williamsonherald.com


Teri Saylor lives and writes in Raleigh, NC. Reach her at terisaylor@hotmail.com.