Barring a quick offer to purchase the Big Sandy News, publisher Melissa Mitchell announced that the Lawrence County weekly would be closing its doors May 1 just after that day’s issue was printed.
Big Sandy News is owned by Kentucky News Group, Inc., and the company includes these other weeklies — Carlisle Mercury, Bath County News Outlook, Menifee County News Outlook, Robertson County Mercury and Flemingsburg Gazette.
According to information provided by the University of Kentucky archives, the Big Sandy News was started by two 18-year-olds back in 1885. Here’s information from that information from UK:
Lynn Boyd Ferguson was 18 years old when he bought H.T. Lyttleton’s Lawrence County Index, from W.O. Johnson. Anderson Webb, also 18, was to be his partner. They called the paper the Big Sandy News, and August 27, 1885 marked their first issue. Printed in the Lawrence county seat of Louisa, the four-page weekly carried the slogan, “Aut Invenium Viam, Aut Facium” or “Either Find a Way or Make One,” The News was a “sprightly Democratic paper” that reached deep into Kentucky’s Eastern Mountain coalfields along the Big Sandy and Tug River Valleys. Coverage also included adjacent Wayne County, West Virginia.
Ferguson, son of Judge Col. Milton Jemison Ferguson, was an outspoken Democrat, and wealthy enough to finance the Big Sandy News, but not for long. After only four issues, Webb “failed, for some cause unknown to me [Ferguson], to buy one-half interest…as he has agreed.” By September 17, Ferguson had sold that half-interest instead to 16-year-old Milton Forrest Conley. A month later financial strains forced the pair to cut “outside matter,” allowing for more advertising dollars and also providing room for Ferguson’s increasingly dogmatic editorials.
Conley was “a man of broad mental ken, mature judgment, utmost civic loyalty, and insistent patriotism” (William Elsey Connelly and Ellis Merton Coulter, History of Kentucky, Vol. 4, 1922). Conley was Louisa’s postmaster from 1893 to 1897, and in 1904, he helped organize the Louisa National Bank in which he served as director and cashier until 1934. Conley also served on the Board of Trustees at several colleges, participated in the local war efforts, and headed infrastructure projects. Conley became a prominent state Democrat as well, being appointed Prison Commissioner in 1912 and Chairman of the State Board of Charities from 1923 to 1929.
Still, newspapers were Conley’s true vocation. At age 14, he had apprenticed with the Prestonsburg Banner and then worked as a compositor at the Lawrence County Index. Conley paid for his share of the News in only 18 months, and by June 2, 1887, he had bought Ferguson’s share, too. He was only 18 years old. Ferguson declared, “I hate this day,” but asked his “liberal friends” to throw their support behind Conley. They obliged, and under Conley’s direction, the Big Sandy News became one of Kentucky’s most respected broadsides. In 1904, it was Kentucky’s first newspaper to use a linotype machine, and in 1922 it was voted Best Country Newspaper by the Kentucky Press Association, an organization in which Conley was also deeply involved.
From 1901 to1902, Conley held half ownership of the Ashland DailyIndependent, which he also edited. In 1929, Conley bought the Republican rival, the Lawrence County Recorder and merged it with the News to become the Big Sandy News-Recorder. On this occasion, he handed the reins of management to his editor Earl W. Kinner, Sr. who had started his career at age 17 with the Lawrence County Recorder. In 1935, after 50 years in the newspaper business, Conley sold the News to the Big Sandy Publishing Company, of which Kinner was a shareholder. The paper was renamed the Big Sandy News and the Lawrence County Recorder. In 1944, Kinner left to buy the Licking Valley Courier [in West Liberty, and by 1974, the Big Sandy Publishing Company returned the paper to its original moniker, Big Sandy News, which is still in print today.
As newspapers proliferated at the turn of the 20th century, the News limited its coverage to Lawrence County. That trend was reversed after 2001, when Big Sandy Publishing acquired the Martin County Sun. Concurrently, the News began to publish bi-weekly, adding bureaus in Paintsville and Prestonsburg. Circulation grew “almost overnight.” In 2008, the paper was sold to WCM Investments which, in 2009, returned the News to a weekly format, asserting that it was the “most widely circulated non-daily in Kentucky…covering Lawrence, Johnson, Martin, Floyd and Magoffin counties in Eastern Kentucky.”
Portions provided by: University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY