Proud to see Smithfield Times soldiering on

Published 5:32 pm Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The Smithfield Times marked its 100th anniversary with a public reception and music on the “green” last Thursday.

It was a modest event, made necessarily so because of COVID-19 social distancing requirements. What’s important, though, is that the celebration was held at all. Nearly 2,000 newspapers have disappeared during the past 15 years, and The Smithfield Times was not among them. That is cause for the entire Isle of Wight and Surry community to celebrate.

Back when The Smithfield Times was founded, starting a newspaper was a pretty simple affair. Several businessmen would get together and invest in a small flatbed press, hire an editor/reporter who generally also knew how to operate the press, and start printing a paper.

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The investors were naturally looking for some financial return, but it often took the form of “favorable” news coverage of their activities as much as it did a profit from the paper itself.

That seems to have been the case here, but in time, under the leadership of Jesse Scott, who bought the paper in 1930, The Smithfield Times began to evolve into something a bit more professional. That evolution continued through the Scott years and later under the leadership of Tom and Betty Phillips, who bought it in 1962.

By the time I joined the newspaper in 1972, community journalism was emulating the broader journalistic world and beginning to tackle substantive local issues. We tried to continue building the paper’s professionalism during the next 47 years, and I believe that, to a large extent, we succeeded.

When Anne and I began seriously looking at retirement, we naturally wanted to take a bit of our labors into the sunset, but our primary goal was to see the newspaper continue to serve these two counties.

Steve Stewart and we had talked periodically about the Boone Newspapers group that he represents buying the paper, but in the end, it was Steve who personally staked his future on the future of the paper and the community it serves, and bought the paper. It has business ties to Boone, but it’s Steve’s paper and his responsibility. I believe the paper’s future is bright because of that.

Not that print journalism generally has a bright future, mind you. It does not. The decades-long erosion of advertising dollars, compounded dramatically by the COVID-19 pandemic, has shuttered paper after paper.

That The Smithfield Times continues to publish each week is a tribute to Steve Stewart’s perseverance and his very frugal management of resources. He is able to accomplish savings that we never could as a stand-alone paper by grouping the resources of The Tidewater News, Suffolk News-Herald and this paper, and that is a primary reason we wanted Steve to be the buyer.

The fact is, stand-alone, full-service community newspapers are finding it increasingly difficult to survive in today’s environment. The pooling of talent, business practices and production is absolutely necessary to meet the challenges.

No one can say what The Smithfield Times, or any other newspaper, will be a quarter-century from now. Print may eventually disappear completely, supplanted entirely by electronic platforms.

So be it. Those of us who love the smell of newsprint along with our coffee in the morning are dying off pretty rapidly, and a new generation may find, as young people said in a survey 20 years ago, that they just don’t like to have to turn the printed pages.

What’s important is the journalism that goes into the paper, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the work being done by the staff that Steve Stewart has brought to the paper. I hope this community feels the same way and will continue to read The Smithfield Times regularly. Your participation will help ensure that a valued community resource is around long after we have expired.


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is