PHILADELPHIA — During the 34 years since Stan Dearman took over ownership of the Neshoba Democrat, the county has experienced an economic boom, bootleggers have come and gone and some people still fuss when their personal business makes the front page.
On Aug. 1, Dearman sold the 119-year-old weekly newspaper in Philadelphia for an undisclosed sum to Prince Newspaper Holdings, parent company of Madison County Publishing Co. Inc., which publishes the Madison County Journal. James E. “Jim” Prince III of Ridgeland, a Neshoba County native who worked for Dearman at the Democrat as a high school student, is the sole stockholder and president of Prince Newspaper Holdings.
“I came here when I was 34-years-old and I’ve had it for 34 years,” said Dearman, editor since 1966 and owner since 1968 of the newspaper established in 1881. “The main reason I sold it now was because the timing was good. A couple of newspaper chains wanted it and were being rather persistent, but I did not want to sell to a chain.”
“The trend of big businesses buying little businesses has concerned me for a long time,” he said. “I’ve seen what’s happened in other comparable size towns, especially when local newspapers sell to chains with out-of-state connections. They demand a certain net, like 20%, and that’s difficult for a small newspaper to get without cutting staff and quality. And they typically send in people who don’t know the area and are on their way to bigger and better things, trying to build their own careers. The only way to stop it was to sell to someone else.”
In its Aug. 2 edition, the last issue Dearman published, the husband of a lady who was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol after she broadsided a pick-up truck, threatened Dearman with legal action if the story was printed in the newspaper.
“He made it sound like I would be the criminal if I published it,” he said. “We ended up printing it on the front page. That was my last day. If people wanted to insure that their story made the paper, all they needed to do was try to intimidate or threaten me.”
A dry county, there was quite a bit of bootleg activity going on during Dearman’s early days at the Democrat.
“The law enforcement was getting payoffs from bootleggers,” he said. “A justice of the peace, who had numerous friends in the bootleg business, filed charges against me one weekend, but luckily, I happened to be out of town. By the time I got back, the warrant had been dropped. At one time, there was a raid by the federal government, and they reported 58 known bootleg establishments in the county, all approved by the sheriff and his cronies. They’re all dead now.”
One night, at the height of the bootleg business, an anonymous call was made to the newspaper with a tip of a terrible wreck that had allegedly occurred five miles north of Philadelphia, where Mississippi 15 crosses the Pearl River. When two staffers trekked to the location, no one was in sight.
“The late Turner Catledge, former editor of The New York Times, who grew up in Philadelphia and started his career at the Democrat while in high school, told me one time, ‘when in doubt, print’,” Dearman said. “I always remembered that.”
Dr. David Sansing, historian and professor emeritus at the University of Mississippi, called Dearman a “courageous editor.”
“Stanley Dearman has been one of the best influences in Mississippi journalism, and his voice of reason and calm, perception and erudition will be greatly missed,” said Sansing. “Stanley has pluck and a great sensitivity and is a real true credit to the profession, which needs all the credit it can get.”
The business community couldn’t have done without the Democrat, said Connie Sampsell, executive director of the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce since 1962. The Neshoba Democrat is the oldest business institution in Neshoba County.
“Stanley has always been so civic-minded and has cooperated with everything we’ve ever tried to do,” Sampsell said. “We couldn’t have asked for anyone to help us more. I’m sure Jim will be, too.”
Prince, editor and publisher of the Madison County Journal, which he will continue to operate, said some accounting operations may be moved to Philadelphia.
“We’re still assessing changes,” Prince said. “We want to make sure the business operation flows seamlessly and that we continue to publish with the same integrity Stan Dearman did.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3976.