Carroll (Iowa) Times Herald sold, remains locally owned

Jan 1, 2023

Jeff and Myrna Wagner (left) of the Sheldon-based media organization Iowa Information, and their son, Sam (right), have taken over leadership of the Carroll Times Herald and Jefferson Herald.

The Tuesday, Nov. 29, edition of the Carroll (Iowa) Times Herald was the final newspaper published by the Wilson and Burns families, the three-generation local owners of the publication for 93 years.

The Sheldon-based Wagner family, well regarded for its award-winning flagship newspaper, The N’West Iowa REVIEW, a growing portfolio of other publications, and its pioneering leadership in Iowa journalism and printing, officially takes ownership Wednesday of the Carroll Times Herald and The Jefferson Herald, the second newspaper operated under the parent company, Herald Publishing. The Thursday edition of the Jefferson paper is under the new ownership.

The deal also involves purchase of the area shoppers, The Advertiser and Bee, by the Wagner family’s newspaper company, Iowa Information.

The Wagner and Wilson/Burns families have been colleagues and friendly competitors at decades of statewide Iowa Newspaper Association and multi-state awards ceremonies. Both the Sheldon and Carroll newspapers have earned Iowa Newspaper of the Year honors in their histories — the Carroll paper in 2013. The N’West Iowa REVIEW garnered the state’s top honor 17 times.

Another reason for the decision by both families is the Wagners are positioning a third generation for a future in the newspaper business.

“This is an outcome with enormous opportunity for the Carroll and Jefferson areas and the Wagner family,” said Douglas Burns, co-owner and vice president for news for Herald Publishing. “The newspapers remain under family ownership, and moreover, Iowa-based family ownership. Readers and advertisers can expect the continued commitment to journalism and local economic development we strived to deliver since my grandfather arrived here in Carroll in 1929. It also extends the tradition of community leadership through two generations of the Morain family, the previous owners of the Jefferson papers.”

Times Herald/Jefferson Herald Publisher Ann Wilson, 81, Douglas Burns, 53, and his brother, Tom Burns, 50, vice president for marketing, will depart the newspapers after assisting in an interim capacity in which the three newspaper owners and residents of Carroll will serve as part-time consultants.

Jane (Burns) Lawson of West Des Moines, a co-owner of the papers, and Ann Wilson’s daughter, has been a regular contributor to the newspaper, most notably of the popular food and wedding columns.

The staffs in both Carroll and Jefferson will stay largely in place. Carroll-based Herald Publishing has owned the Jefferson papers since 2012 when it acquired them from the Morain family, former long-time owners. Rick Morain has continued as a regular contributor of news and commentary.

Printing of the publications will remain at White Wolf Web in Sheldon, a large regional state-of-the-art printing plant and sister company of Iowa Information. White Wolf prints more than 145 newspaper titles each week, delivered in a radius of 290 miles from Sheldon. Together, White Wolf Web and Iowa Information employ more than 90 people. The Times Herald and Jefferson products shifted printing to Sheldon five years ago.

“We are pleased to add the Carroll and Jefferson papers to the titles we own and publish,” said Jeff Wagner, Iowa Information’s president and second generation of the family-owned media company. “We’ve always admired the communities of Carroll and Jefferson and the papers in these markets, so we are excited about the opportunity to be part of their vibrancy.”

Wagner noted that the acquisition takes on special meaning for his family as he and Douglas Burns have worked closely on a number of newspaper initiatives over 25 years, and Burns and Wagner’s late brother, Jay Wagner, an award-winning journalist, were close friends.

“This is a real moment of pride for our family because of the respect we have for the Carroll Times Herald and Jefferson Herald, what Doug, Ann, Tom and so many talented Carroll journalists and staff, Rick Morain and his organization, have meant to a vast swath of west-central Iowa,” Wagner said. “We will work each day to earn the trust of the communities.”

Both Wagner and Douglas Burns acknowledged the newspaper industry is seeing dramatic changes like a lot of industries, but they are optimistic about its future.

“We are blessed to be deeply involved in the lives of the communities we cover,” Burns said, “Yes, this is hard, heartbreaking, even, to leave the newspapers, but we have exhausted our local operating model. We trust the Wagner family with what matters so much to our family. We ask our communities to support Jeff Wagner and his family in this transition, welcome them to our towns, subscribe and advertise. I can’t begin to tell you what a better arrangement this is than having the newspapers in the hands out out-of-state chains or hedge funds. Support what you have now.”

In April of this year Iowa Information purchased the Le Mars Sentinel, the Shopper’s Guide, Remsen Bell=Enterprise, Iowa Information’s other titles include The N’West Iowa REVIEW, The Sheldon Mail-Sun, Sioux Center News, The Osceola County Gazette-Tribune, Hawarden Independent/Ireton Examiner, The Golden Shopper, Sioux Center Shopper, Area-Wide Advertiser, OKOBOJI Magazine, DISCOVER! and the website

The Iowa Information Media Group was started in 1962 by Peter W. and Connie Wagner. Jeff Wagner, president, and his wife, Myrna, are the second generation of family members involved in day-to-day operations of the business. The company is transitioning to a third generation of leadership with their son, Sam Wagner, an Iowa State University finance and business analytics graduate, is involved in the daily management of the companies.

Peter Wagner, the founder of the newspaper organization, guided his publications to statewide prominence, and in doing so, earned the Iowa Newspaper Association’s Master Editor Publisher Award. He is a long-time columnist for newspaper industry trade publications.

The Carroll Times Herald and Jefferson Herald have long been known for community involvement, in both leadership and supporting roles.

Four members of the Wilson/Burns families were named Carroll Chamber of Commerce Citizens of the Year over the decades, the late former publishers James W. Wilson, his son, James B. Wilson, and current publisher Ann Wilson, the daughter of Herald Publishing founder James W. Wilson. Her son, Douglas Burns, earned the Citizen of the Year honors in 2019.

Through James W. Wilson’s guidance, the family prioritized civic involvement and used its platform (The Carroll Daily Times Herald at one point had among the highest circulation penetrations of any city in the United States) to elevate generations of community initiatives — from early urban renewal and the development of one of the first indoor malls in a rural community (downtown Carroll) in the United States, to James B. Wilson’s role in recruiting some of the large employers in Carroll’s eastern corridor to Ann Wilson’s steadfast support of local education, public and private, in a host of capacities. Ann Wilson’s legacy is also one of a trailblazer as she is the first woman to serve in a number of positions of influence in the region.

Douglas Burns, who has been at the newspaper since 1997, developed a reputation as an advocate for rural Iowa with state and national political ties. He also served in a voluntary capacity on dozens of local boards and endeavors in Carroll and Greene Counties.
Tom Burns served on local school committees and has coached youth sports.

The concept for the development of Wild Rose Casino & Resort emerged in the pages of the Jefferson and Carroll papers in editorials Douglas Burns and Rick Morain wrote. The two journalists and community leaders helped the effort to pass the referendums needed for Wild Rose Jefferson, a catalyst for much public-minded work in the region.

“My mom, for her whole life, has modeled public service to me,” Burns said, “My grandfather did that; my uncle did that. They all taught me that when you’re a part of a community, you’re supposed to give more to the community than you take.”

Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture, and the former governor of Iowa, once referred to the Carroll Daily Times Herald as the best rural newspaper in the United States.

The Carroll and Jefferson papers, with the Morains, and Wilson and Burns families, worked to cover the local landscape while also drawing interviews and interaction, both with news stories and economic development, with state and national leaders.

“We are grateful to have had nearly a century of journalism and community involvement,” Douglas Burns said. “It’s been humbling to celebrate Carroll and Jefferson, the area counties, to be there in the best of times for people, and of course, some of the difficult days, moments. Thank you for trusting us to be a part of your lives. We leave with heavy hearts, but full ones thanks to the thousands of people who trusted us to tell their stories and be a daily part of life in west-central Iowa.”

This follows the family's April 2022 purchase of the Le Mars (Iowa) Sentinel and Remsen Bell.