AYDEN—The Times-Leader Newspaper, which traces its lineage through a series of publications dating back to 1912, is returning to the town where it all began.
Work began this week to move The Times-Leader offices to a new permanent home at 574 Third St., Ayden, on the corner of West Avenue near Bum’s Restaurant.
The move comes after the newspaper’s office in Grifton was flooded with approximately 3 1/2 feet of water in the wake of Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Since that time, Times-Leader staff have been working out of the office of The Farmville Enterprise, its sister weekly publication under the umbrella of Cooke Communications North Carolina LLC.
While the decision to leave the Grifton office was not easy, it was necessary, according to Group Publisher Kyle Stephens.
“It's just an unfortunate situation for us. We looked at all of our options, but it doesn't work out financially for us to stay in Grifton,” Stephens said. “It's sad for me personally … I've worked in Grifton for nearly 15 years. My first day in the newspaper business was right here in this office.”
At the same time, returning the paper to its roots in Ayden marks the start of an exciting new chapter in its history.
“Our new location is a great fit for us on so many levels. It puts us right in the middle of Winterville and Grifton, a centralized location for our coverage area,” Stephens said. “We're back in the same office that the newspaper was published out of more than 60 years ago, which offers up a little nostalgia. And, we're right next door to Bum's, so I can pick up a to-go banana pudding for my daughter any day of the week. We're excited about it, and I invite everyone to stop in and say hello.”
The focus of the paper in providing news for all three communities it serves will also remain unchanged, Group Editor Angela Harne added.
“We are thrilled our newspaper office is returning to Ayden, and are excited to grow our presence throughout the town. We will miss our home in Grifton, but will continue to provide Grifton residents their community news, just as we have for 64 years," Harne said. "I, personally, also look forward to continuing to serve and report for the town of Winterville. My staff, and I, strive to bring our readers news they care about — news about their neighbors, their children and their local governments. The news that is affecting their community."
The Grifton office had served as the home of The Times-Leader since it was formed with the merger of The Grifton Times and The News-Leader in 1994, however, the roots of the nearly 105-year lineage of the newspaper ultimately stretch back to a humble beginning in Ayden.
It all began in September 1912 when John C. Andrews of the Andrews Publishing Co. began publication of The Ayden Dispatch, which continued for several decades.
That newspaper’s assets were purchased by J. Russell Wooten in the late 1950s. At the time it was being published out of the same building on Third Street that will now house The Times-Leader.
Wooten liquated the majority of the assets of The Dispatch and sold the mailing list to Clyde Simmons, who in turn began publication of The Grifton Times and The Ayden Tribune as a continuation of The Ayden Dispatch.
In February 1962, Wooten began publication of The Ayden News-Leader in competition with The Ayden Tribune. Wooten later partnered with David J. Whichard II in 1970 to form the Pitt Publishing Co. Inc. The newspaper’s name was then changed to The News-Leader in 1971 when coverage was expanded to Winterville, as well as, Ayden.
In April 1975, Wooten and Whichard purchased The Grifton Times and The Ayden Tribune and discontinued publication of The Ayden Tribune.
Wooten became publisher of The News-Leader and The Grifton Times. Mitchell Oakley, who had been named city editor of The Ayden News-Leader in 1971, became editor.
Whichard purchased Wooten’s interest in the company in 1986, and in 1993 Oakley was named editor and publisher of both newspapers. Wooten, who had retired from the newspaper, died not long after.
The Grifton-Times and The News-Leader continued as separate publications until December 1993. They were combined as the Times-Leader in January 1994, and operations were moved to the office in Grifton that had housed The Grifton-Times since its founding in 1953.
A major blow was struck in September 1999, when flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Floyd brought six feet of water into the building, completely ruining old newspapers and other files.
Computer equipment was removed before the flood and used to continue publication from Oakley’s home. Not a single issue was missed, despite the inconveniences that came with the flooding and the loss of news and advertising materials. The publication was moved after two weeks to the Ayden Chamber of Commerce building.
All the interior walls of The Times-Leader office in Grifton were removed and a complete renovation was undertaken. The new offices were furnished with new equipment, and the modern building was occupied in January 2000.
In the years following the flood, operations grew adding two annual editions of Ayden Magazine in 2006 and Winterville and Grifton magazines in 2007.
In 2007, The Times-Leader became part of the Southern Group of Cox North Carolina Publications Inc., which had purchased The Daily Reflector and nine non-daily publications from the Whichard family in 1996.
The Southern Group included The Standard Laconic in Snow Hill and the Farmville Enterprise in Farmville. Oakley was named group publisher of the three newspapers and Stephens was named group advertising manager.
Cooke Communications North Carolina LLC, a family-owned group, purchased The Times-Leader and other publications from Cox in 2010.
Oakley announced his retirement that same year and stayed on in a part-time advisory role until January 2011. Oakley retained a writing relationship with the company upon his full retirement who remains to-date as a weekly columnist.
Stephens was named group publisher of The Farmville Enterprise, The Standard Laconic and The Times-Leader following Oakley’s retirement. Harne, who previously served as the publisher and editor of The Beaufort-Hyde News in Belhaven, was named group editor in May 2011.
The Martin County Enterprise and The Bertie-Ledger Advance, sister community newspapers of Cooke Communications, joined the Southern Group in May 2015.
Included within the five newspapers are six magazines: The bi-annual Ayden Magazine in its 13th year, annual Farmville Magazine in its 13th year, annual Winterville Magazine in its 13th year, annual Greene Living Magazine in its 12th year, annual Grifton Magazine in its sixth year and Eastern Living Magazine in eighth year, which is published six times a year.
The Times Leader is published each Wednesday.