WJH closure

Journal-Herald nixed former Times’ owner’s offer to buy in 2017

Area newspaper readers were shocked in recent days as word leaked out over the weekend of a Friday announcement by management of the Waycross Journal-Herald that the six-day-a-week newspaper would publish its last edition Monday of this week.

It almost didn’t happen that way.

Former Times Publisher Robert M. Williams Jr. along with two partners, Dink NeSmith of Athens and Eric Denty of Jesup, had a signed agreement to purchase the newspaper in July 2017. Majority owner of the Journal-Herald, Roger Williams, had introduced Robert Williams as the soon-to-be publisher to the WJH staff on a Thursday afternoon. Friday morning, Roger asked to be released from his agreement to sell after discussions with his brother Jack Williams III, a minority stockholder. (Robert Williams is not related to the Williams family in Waycross.)

“They made us a fair offer two years ago, but some of the other stockholders didn’t favor it,” Roger Williams told The Times Monday. “I was in favor. I thought it was fair ... In retrospect, we were foolish to back away from it.”

“We were very disappointed and felt that the last chance to save the Journal-Herald had just slipped away,” Robert Williams said Monday of his previous negotiation.

Turns out that was the case.

Roger Williams says Journal-Herald stockholders knew closure was coming, but didn’t expect it to be so soon.

“It’s something we knew would happen eventually and it happened sooner than we expected. We had some unanticipated expense with our building,” he says. “We just weren’t putting up the numbers we needed to maintain the business.”

Robert Williams and Roger Williams had again been in discussion in recent weeks to reach a second agreement but those efforts were unsuccessful. Options discussed included a buyout or assistance converting the daily paper into a weekly or bi-weekly.

“The time window was mighty narrow and then they backed out of that plan and it left us with no alternative but to cut our losses,” Roger Williams says.

“I had attempted to buy the Journal-Herald for decades but was always rebuffed,” says Robert Williams. “It breaks my heart to see any newspaper close, but especially so for one this close to my heart. I feel very sorry for the families that are being impacted.”

Robert Williams said “timing is everything.”

“If I had not just recently sold The Blackshear Times and retired, this whole scenario would likely be different. I hate things turned out this way.”

Williams said the Waycross community can still “very easily” support a good weekly or twice weekly newspaper and he expects someone will soon meet that challenge.

“Every town needs a good newspaper and Waycross will soon realize the truth of that statement,” he said.