Holmes County Advertiser: Home town paper again

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We’ve all been aware that our local paper has been far from local for a while. It has been going through some changes and hopefully you will see its return to being a hometown paper again. I am sure you’ve read with interest the news that announced the purchase of the paper by Neves Publishing, Inc. They have also bought The Washington County News home based in Chipley and weekly papers in Port St. Joe and Carrabell. Their business model is “hometown newspapers.” They have been able to convince former editor, Carol Kent Wyatt to return as editor. We are already seeing changes, but when the business is fully transferred from Gannett, the set up will be more like the Advertiser of former years.

It had the distinction of being the oldest continuous family newspaper when it was sold in 1974 by fourth generation Williams family member Dianne Williams Smith and husband Orrin. They had been with the paper since 1965 when they moved home from employment in Atlanta, Ga to help owner N. DeVane Williams grandson of the founder in the publication. A stroke in 1974 prevented Williams from continuing to publish the paper, so the Smith’s bought out the paper and ran it until 1981 when they made the difficult decision to sell the 89-year-old family paper.

It was founded in 1918 by William Davis Williams who had moved into Holmes County from North Carolina due to the virgin timber bounty and settled near Westville at Cerra Gordo on the banks of the Choctawhatchee River. This tough pioneer was a minister, a politician, and a farmer in addition to his newspaper endeavor. He wrote controversial editorials which he always signed “Old W.D.” and often placed himself in conflict with other newspapermen of the day. His political philosophy and his strong moral stance helped shape the political fiber of Holmes County. The slogan that was carried underneath the title on the front page of the Advertiser, “Labor is Honest and Pluck Wins” summed up Old W.D.’s philosophy.

When the Court House was moved to Bonifay in 1905, W.D. called on his son Edward who was working with another paper to move to Bonifay and take over the publication of the Holmes County Advertiser. Edward Arthur Williams was totally entrenched in the life of Bonifay, in religion, in politics, in government. He

was a model citizen who expressed his philosophy of a newspaper’s function in an editorial. He wrote: The adage “It takes a lot of living to make a house a home” applies to a newspaper.….it must Participate in the joys and sorrows, the problems, the perplexities as well as the triumphs and successes of a people for a long time before it becomes an integral part of their home/life. It must sacrifice for them, struggle for them, suffer for them before it becomes one of them.”

The Advertiser carried social items: who married, who died, who visited whom last Sunday, who made a business trip to Bonifay, who is on the sick list, who has a new baby. I remember that the different areas of the county had local reporters who wrote about the same kinds of interests. We had the Bonifay Route One News by a neighbor, Mrs. Nix Nelson.

Ed Williams was involved in the politics of the city, the county and the state as well as nationally, serving many elected offices. His political editorials influenced many. My grandfather, Tommy Wells would say about an issue or a candidate, “I’ll wait and see what Williams has to say before I decide.” In spite of ED’s father, W.D.’s, animosity to the moving of the Court House to Bonifay, Edward found loyal friends in the community. He wrote an editorial blaming the bitterness between the west and east side of the River on his father’s vehement opposition.

He was involved in his church, even mortgaging his home to help finance the rebuilding of his home church, First Baptist when it was destroyed by fire. To show the respect held for E.A. Williams, Jr, many businesses closed for his funeral and school children were released early.

N. DeVane Williams grew up working at “the paper.” When just a boy, he was so proficient at operating the complicated linotype machine that he was written up in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.” Following graduation from The University of Florida and excelling there in newspaper work and leadership he worked for The Gainesville Sun and The Florida Times Union. In 1939 he moved his family to Bonifay and worked along-side his father until the death of Ed when DeVane Williams took over the reins. He continued the same philosophy about the hometown family newspaper as his father and grandfather, continuing the same involvement in the political life and community affairs of the town.

When the Woodhams assumed ownership of the paper in 1974 they continued to produce the hometown style paper as the Williams Family had established and maintained through the years. We look forward to a return to that same style of newspaper that Holmes County can depend on for correct information and coverage of local happenings.

This article originally appeared on Washington County News: Holmes County Advertiser: Home town paper again

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