In August 1979, a new business-focused, statewide newspaper hit the newsstand for the first time. Dubbed the Mississippi Business Journal, that first issue dealt with transportation issues, oil and gas exploration and the upcoming gubernatorial election as well as offering people in the news, business briefs, editorials and more.
The frequency of the publication would evolve from monthly to weekly, the format would change from tabloid size to magazine and back to tabloid and the newspaper would see new ownership, but 35 years after that first edition, the Mississippi Business Journal is still offering many of those news items and is still striving to be the voice of business and industry in the Magnolia State.
In a special pre-production issue in 1979, the original publisher and owner Joe Mack Dove wrote: “The Journal is being targeted at a statewide communications need, which we do not believe is being filled now. We could never hope to compete with the large daily media in general news coverage; what we intend to do is provide a solid and timely look at what is happening in business and commerce across our state.”
Over the next five years under Dove and then-editor Mike McCall, the MBJ grew in offerings and readership, emerging as a trusted source for business news.
Dove eventually sold the MBJ in 1984 to veteran publisher Richard Roper. Two years later, Roper sold the paper to Rosa Lee Harden Jones, who along with her husband, Kevin, operated the MBJ nearly 10 years.
However, the MBJ saw its most significant and consistent growth when Jackson-area entrepreneur, CPA and business consultant Joe Jones purchased the newspaper in the mid-1990s.
Jones was originally asked to help Rosa Lee Harden Jones (no relation) find a new owner for the paper. She thought leaving the paper under the control of a local businessperson was in the paper’s best interest. Jones agreed.
“I was helping Rosa Lee pitch the paper to prospective buyers when I decided that I should buy it myself,” Jones remembered. “I had recently sold out of another business venture and had some change in my pocket. So, I along with then-editor Buddy Bynum (who would serve as editor through 1997) bought the paper in April 1995.”
“Why did I gamble on an unproven product in an unfamiliar market? I really can’t say definitively. I enjoy business and, truth be known, I like to run things. I had never been involved with a creative-type business and that intrigued me.”
It would prove to be a successful transition as most of the MBJ’s special events and publications launched under Jones’ leadership. Top 40 Under 40, Best Places to Work, 50 Leading Businesswomen/Businesswoman of the Year, NEXT! A Guide to Life After High School, Book of Lists and Meetings, Conventions and Tourism (now Come See Us) were all introduced during this time.
One event, the Mississippi Business & Technology EXPO (now the Mississippi Business Marketplace) was already in place when Jones bought the MBJ, but it grew into the largest business-to-business tradeshow in the entire state in the late 1990s.
The MBJ was a pioneer when it came to the online publishing. When it launched www.msbusiness.com, the MBJ was the first weekly in the state to develop a website. And it was during this time that the MBJ launched the MBJ E-Bulletin, a free daily e-mail service that continues today.
Jones gave the lion’s share of credit for the MBJ’s growth to his management team, which included late general manager Ron Jones (no relation) and Jim Laird, who replaced Bynum and served as editor for nearly a decade.
It was during this time that the MBJ made history when it won the top honor — General Excellence — from the Mississippi Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest in its first year of eligibility. It marked the first time ever that a newspaper took the highest award in its inaugural year of competition. (The MBJ has gone on to win dozens of MPA awards, including another General Excellence in 2010 and 2012.)
In 2007, Joe Jones sold the MBJ to Minneapolis, Minn.-based Dolan Media. It was during this time that the MBJ moved to its present locale at 200 North Congress Street in downtown Jackson.
The MBJ added more special publications and events during this time, including Healthcare Heroes, Leaders in Law and Leaders in Finance.
The MBJ’s newest chapter opened in 2012 when Tupelo-based Journal Inc. purchased the MBJ from Dolan. Privately held Journal Inc.’s flagship operation is the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, Tupelo’s daily newspaper. In addition to the MBJ, Journal Inc. owns weekly newspapers located across north Mississippi and southwest Tennessee.
Journal Inc. CEO, president and publisher Clay Foster said, “Thirty-five years in business is a significant milestone and certainly worthy of noting and celebrating. Journal Inc. is proud to be the owner of the Mississippi Business Journal and take part in this celebration, having acquired the business in late 2012.
“We believe having a product focused on providing the most comprehensive local business coverage both in print and online, while promoting the positive things about our state, is important for companies wanting to grow their business and those considering locating here,” Foster continued. “We understand and appreciate the challenge of remaining relevant and providing news and information that is abundantly useful to the businesses and consumers we serve in Mississippi, and we look forward to a successful future for our state’s business community and the Mississippi Business Journal.”
Alan Turner, who was named publisher of the MBJ in 2009, said, “The Mississippi Business Journal continues today with the same mission it began with — namely, to provide important and relevant information about Mississippi business to business and civic leaders, educators, health and legal professionals and others who read our publication and website. We are pleased and proud to be Mississippi’s premier source of statewide business news.”