A history of the New Era’s 150 years
By Zirconia Alleyne
New Era Editor
The Kentucky New Era is officially 150.
The same age as Major League Baseball, the periodic table, Welch’s (yes, the grape juice and jelly titan) and the company that brought us Campbell’s Chicken Noodle. Some of America’s greatest proprietorships were launched in 1869, and the Kentucky New Era was part of that class.
Deemed the oldest business in Hopkinsville, the Kentucky New Era was founded as a weekly newspaper in the winter of 1869 by lawyers Col. John Dabney Morris and Asher Graham Caruth.
Many newspapers had come and gone in Christian County; however, the New Era, as it would become known, “had a destiny of being Hopkinsville’s longest operating newspaper enterprise,” states “The Newspapers of Christian County,” published in 1980 by Christian County historian William T. Turner and a longtime New Era reporter, the late Mary D. Ferguson.
The longevity of the New Era hasn’t been without ebbs and flows in circulation, highs and lows in subscriptions and tough transitions as the business of news ever evolves.
Through new owners, editors, reporters and publishers, the New Era has remained a mainstay in the Christian County community, delivering the news but also sharing the stories of its citizens and businesses.
The early years
The Kentucky New Era wasn’t always the sole newspaper in town. The weekly Kentuckian was a strong competitor for the New Era’s weekly edition during the late 1800s. The oldest known copy of the New Era that survives is dated Jan. 27, 1871, and is part of the collection of the county historian.
The New Era’s first offices were in West’s Hall on Bridge Street, now known as West Seventh Street. Five other downtown locations housed the New Era.
Like many papers during that time, the New Era printed both a weekly and a daily edition, launching its daily issues Nov. 16, 1888.
Since then, the New Era has printed on a daily schedule (or a combination thereof), ending its weekly publication Dec. 29, 1944.
At the time, New Era Building was at 123 W. Seventh St. It was built in 1910 and the New Era operations remained there until the 1618 E. Ninth St. location was built in 1971.
The ownership of the Kentucky New Era changed frequently during its early years, moving from the hands of Morris and Caruth to Philip VanBussum and Robert McCarroll in 1871, then William Feland in November 1872.
A new group of owners came in April 1873 with Hunter Wood, Walter E. Warfield and Samuel E. Gaines, until Wood bought Warfield's and Gaine's interest in the following years.
The Wood family, originally from Virginia, would become the longest owners of the Kentucky New Era, holding majority ownership for 137 years. Hunter Wood’s brother, James Wood, later
served as editor, and his son, Alfred Walker Wood Sr., would assume ownership upon Hunter Wood’s death May 29, 1920.
During the Wood reign, the Kentucky New Era developed itself as the authority on the printed word, establishing the Hopkinsville New Era Printing and Publishing Company in August 1886.
When the Kentuckian printed its last issue in 1920, its former owner/editor Charles M. Meacham, who was also a county historian, made an agreement with A.W. Wood Sr., then New Era publisher/owner, to continue writing a column for publication in the Kentucky New Era. It ran regularly until Meacham retired in 1943, the book states.
A.W. Wood Sr. died in 1941, and the paper was passed down to his two sons, A. Walker Wood Jr. — who had worked for the Paducah Sun Times — and Thomas Fairleigh Wood who became co-publishers. Walker was executive editor and Tom was business manager.
Like Meacham, Walker became known for his column writing in the New Era. He was best known for “The Office Cat,” written under the pen name Junius, and “The Tabloid,” which he continued after Meacham’s death.
Following the death of Walker and then Tom in 1969, Robert C. Carter served as president and general manager of the New Era. Carter had started at the paper in 1953 as an advertising salesman, and in June 1972, he purchased a portion of company stock — the first time part of the company’s ownership passed from the family in three generations.
He retired as publisher in 1997 when another Wood descendant — the great-great-grandson of Hunter Wood — Taylor Wood Hayes was named CEO and publisher that October. Charles “Chuck” Henderson was hired as president and Mike Herndon was editor.
Editors through the years included a long line of men; names you might remember include Joe Dorris, Ken Litchfield, father-son duo Cecil and Mike Herndon and David Riley, to name a few.
The first female editor of the New Era was Laura Coleman Noeth in 2005, followed by Jennifer P. Brown in 2009. The first African-American at the helm was current editor Zirconia Alleyne in December 2018.
Some of the earliest stories on the front pages of the Kentucky New Era reported on everything from elections to agriculture, to lynchings and the wars. Hard news and lighter affairs were all packaged together. Just one page over from a Mobile, Ala., lynching story in an 1888 issue was a section called Notes About People, which reported who was where that day.
“Mr. William Bamberger is in Nashville,” it read. “Miss Rosa Bohn, of Louisville, is visiting her cousin, Miss May Bohn.” The section is reminiscent of today’s “check-in” updates on Facebook.
National news was pulled from the Associated Press wire — a headline in the New Era from May 8, 1945, reads “AP Gets Nazi Surrender Story to U.S. Hours Ahead Of Others.”
Local correspondents wrote about what went on in their communities like Pembroke and LaFayette and cities in nearby Hopkins and Todd counties.
Correspondents’ reports were popular from the paper’s beginning until the mid-1950s. Mrs. Myrtle Hayes was the last of the correspondents, writing her column “Bennettstown Notes” well into the 1980s, according to local newspaper history.
Around that time, the New Era was beginning to organize news into departments based on topics. Sports claimed the first special pages along with farm, women’s news, African-American
news, religious news and building pages.
In 1930, the first woman was hired as a member of the New Era editorial staff. Betty Harton was society editor, marking the development of another section in the paper. Her byline ran with her husband’s initials, J.L. Harton, and she worked for the paper until July 1934.
As the years went on, more section editors were established to report for a specific beat. There was Living, Religion, Agriculture and Homes, which printed during certain months of the year.
In recent years, some departments have combined into the weekend Faith and Living section, and some sections, like Agriculture, are obsolete.That news is reported among the rest.
Former owner, publisher and editor Taylor Hayes said as the news business changed, some roles were combined and so were similar sections.
The paper also had multiple photographers at one time when photos were processed in the New Era's dark room. Some award-winning New Era photographers include Peter Wright, Tracey Lewis, Dana Long and Danny Vowell.
One of the most iconic New Era photos is one of an Amish funeral procession taken by Wright as a parade of buggies carried their loved one on to glory.
Over the years, the time of day the New Era was delivered has changed.
In June 1998, the New Era launched the Weekender, a morning Saturday-Sunday edition that focused on lifestyle news and more. It was also available online.
“We wanted to create a Sunday paper, except it come out on Saturday,” Hayes said. “That’s when we introduced color comics.”
Over a decade later, the New Era became a morning paper Oct. 3, 2011. It would print five days a week — Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Before that, the New Era had been an afternoon paper delivered by teen paperboys after school.
Hayes said subscribers were upset when it became a morning paper because they were accustomed to winding down from work with the day's news.
This was also the beginning of the end of paperboys, as delivery of the paper began in the wee hours of the morning instead of the afternoon. Carriers would now need their own cars and a driver’s license to hawk the New Era to subscribers.
As most things come full circle, the New Era is an afternoon paper once again, as it is delivered by the United States Postal Service. For those who still crave their news in the morning, the digital e-edition is available online.
Expanding its reach
“The New Era was simply the New Era for many, many years,” Hayes said.
The first paper added to the media group was the Fort Campbell Courier, which operated as a contract job between the New Era and the Department of Defense at Fort Campbell. The New Era secured that contract in the early 1980s and kept it for over 30 years.
On May 6, 1992, the company purchased its first official sister paper, the combined Princeton Times Leader. The merger occurred off the strength of the relationships Bob Carter had with the Hutcheson family who owned the Princeton Leader and the Hobby family who owned the Caldwell County Times, Hayes said.
The kentuckynewera.com website launched in 1998 along with the Weekender section, and a
daily feed of online news stories began populating the website in 2000.
“We had had a web presence for sometime because of David Riley,” Hayes said. “But, our real big time web presence was when we went with a company called Town News. They made it easy for small newspapers to make this work.”
The push into the social media came with New Era Editor Eli Pace in 2011, Hayes noted.
“And of course, Chris Jung, when he came on board, he really did (social media),” Hayes said.
The New Era launched the weekly Eagle Post “from scratch” in 2008, after the DoD awarded the Fort Campbell Courier contract to another paper, Hayes said. In order to compete for those readers and to capture the ad revenue, The Eagle Post began.
And then, the Courier contract was back up for grabs — turns out, the paper that was awarded the contract decided not to proceed with printing, Hayes said.
“We had already started The Eagle Post, so we said let’s see how this goes,” Hayes recalled. “We never missed a beat in printing (the Fort Campbell Courier).”
The New Era produced both papers until last year. The Eagle Post remains part of the Kentucky New Era.
Over the next few decades, the New Era expanded its ownership to include the Providence Journal Enterprise in 2014 and the Dawson Springs Progress in 2016.
Along with newspapers, Kentucky New Era Inc. briefly owned a radio station WKOA in 1954 and launched WKAG TV-43 in July 1984, which it owned until 2004. There was also Pacesetter Printing that came with the Times Leader purchase and printed promotional materials until last year.
In March 2012, the brainchild of Mary Beth Carlock, “Fort Campbell Families” magazine, launched. Hoptown Families began the following year and Ag Families magazine launched in 2016.
In November 2018, the Kentucky New Era was sold to another family-owned newspaper conglomerate, Paxton Media Group, based out of Paducah. PMG owns more than 30 newspapers across Kentucky and the southern U.S. David M. Paxton is president/CEO.
Haye said the decision to sell became a serious topic in spring 2018.
“I was just looking at things like operating expenses and retirement commitments,” he said. “And, in my mind and on paper, I realized this is getting pretty tough.”
Hayes said he talked with his family and board members about the options, which ultimately led to a broker that presented an offer from Paxton Media Group. The price of the purchase has not been disclosed, Hayes said it was the best option.
“I’ve known members of that family for many years, and they’re just really good people,” he said. “They’re savvy businesspeople, and they’ve been able to make it work. They’re a Kentucky family and already had facilities here in Kentucky.”
Like newspapers across the country, the New Era joined a group of papers in order to weather yet another transition in how readers get their news and how advertisers value the printed product.
Hayes said it was “pretty traumatic” to end the century-long family legacy, but above all, he wanted the Kentucky New Era to thrive.
“I wanted the entity to have a good opportunity to continue forward, and they knew what they needed to do to make it work,” he said. “I think it’s so important for the community, for there to be a news organization like the Kentucky New Era.
“I don’t want to take anything away from our competitors, but what you do here, nobody else does,” Hayes continued. “That kind of journalism is so important for the good of the community and progressing the community forward.”
So, the Kentucky New Era continues. The paper, along with its new sister paper The Cadiz Record, employs a staff a 20 — a combination of five reporters and editors in the newsroom, two on the sports team and a handful of representatives in advertising, circulation and customer service.
The paper itself is now printed in Owensboro, but the reporters have not changed. The local office will be on South Main Street, next to The Main Street Tavern and across from the Hopkinsville Municipal Center in December.
Local and regional news is delivered in print Tuesday through Saturday and by-the-minute online and through social media. Daily weather alerts are sent via text, and there’s even a podcast, “Podkinsville,” when stories need a little more reporting than on the page.
While the landscape of the news business continues to evolve, the New Era will continue evolving with it. One thing that will stay the same is the newspaper's commitment to truth and accuracy on every page.