Morris Communications Corporation History

725 Broad Street
Augusta, Georgia 30903

Telephone: (706) 724-0851
Toll Free: 800-622-6358
Fax: (706) 722-7125

Private Company
Incorporated: 1970
Employees: 6,000
Sales: $540 million (1999 est.)
NAIC: 323110 Commercial Lithographic Printing; 511110 Newspaper Publishers; 511120 Periodical Publishers; 511130 Book Publishers; 513111 Radio Networks; 513112 Radio Stations; 541850 Display Advertising; 541860 Direct Mail Advertising; 561920 Convention and Trade Show Organizers

Company Perspectives:

Morris Communications is a privately held media company with diversified holdings that include newspaper and magazine publishing, outdoor advertising, radio broadcasting, book publishing and distribution, computer services, and online services. Newspapers are the foundation and core business of the company owned by the Morris family since 1945. Today the Georgia-based enterprise reaches across the nation, has holdings in Europe, and employs 6,000 people. Key Dates:

Key Dates:

William S. Morris, Jr., becomes bookkeeper of the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle.
Morris and a colleague purchase a controlling interest in the Chronicle.
Morris and his wife purchase the remaining interest in the Chronicle and also buy the Augusta Herald.
Williams S. Morris, Jr., dies.
Morris Communications Corporation (MCC) is established, with Southeastern Newspapers Corp. as a subsidiary.
MCC acquires Naegele Outdoor Advertising Inc., the third largest outdoor advertising firm in the United States.
MCC acquires Stauffer Communications Inc. for $275 million.
MCC acquires The Globe Pequot Press and enters the book publishing business; MCC acquires Best Read Guides Franchise Corp.

Company History:

Morris Communications Corporation (MCC) is a mid-sized media company with holdings in diverse media. Its core business is newspaper publishing, with 45 newspapers including 31 dailies and 14 nondailies in 15 states. Its flagship publication is the Augusta Chronicle, and its largest-circulation paper is the Florida Times-Union of Jacksonville. MCC also publishes 22 free community papers, or shoppers, in eight states. Its book publishing division includes travel-related titles published and distributed through The Globe Pequot Press, which is one of the top three sources of travel books and maps in the United States. It also publishes several tourist publications, notably the Best Read Guides series and two publications in London, England. Of the company's 20 magazine publications, five are of national interest and the rest are local or regional publications. The five national publications include Gray's Sporting Journal, Alaska, The Milepost, Quarter Horse News, and Barrel Horse News. The company's nonpublishing properties include 27 radio stations and three radio networks, an outdoor advertising business, direct marketing, commercial printing, event marketing, Internet service providers (ISP), and web hosting services.

Early History

Headquartered in Augusta, Georgia, Morris Communications Corporation (MCC) owns what it calls 'The South's Oldest Paper,' the Augusta Chronicle. The newspaper was established in 1785 as the Augusta Gazette and was the town's first newspaper. The Morris family became involved with the Augusta Chronicle in 1929, when 26-year-old William S. Morris, Jr., became its bookkeeper. Within a few years he was president of the Chronicle Publishing Co. and publisher of the newspaper. In 1945 Morris and a colleague purchased a controlling interest in the Chronicle. In 1955 Morris and his wife acquired the remaining interest in the Chronicle and also purchased the Augusta Herald, the city's afternoon newspaper. It marked the beginning of the firm's growth.

William S. Morris III, son of William Morris, Jr., joined the firm in 1956, just before turning 22, as assistant to the president. Ten years later he was the publisher of the Augusta newspapers and president of Southeastern Newspapers Corp., successor of the Chronicle Publishing Co.

From 1956 through 1960 the Morris family owned the first licensed radio station in Augusta, WRDW, and its companion television station. The company would not enter radio broadcasting again until 1995, with the acquisition of Stauffer Communications, Inc.

Acquisition of More Newspapers: 1960s--70s

With two Augusta newspapers as its base, MCC began to grow through acquisitions in the 1960s. In 1960 it acquired two daily newspapers in Savannah, Georgia. Two Athens, Georgia daily newspapers were purchased in 1965 and 1967. The company's first Alaskan newspaper was acquired in 1969 in Juneau.

Morris Communications Corporation was established in 1970, with Southeastern Newspapers Corp. as a subsidiary, and descended from a corporate structure dating to the 19th century. Growth and expansion continued in the 1970s. Four Texas dailies were acquired in 1972. In 1979 a commercial printing plant and three nondaily newspapers in northern Georgia were acquired; these were subsequently sold in 1994.

Diversification into Other Media: 1980s

During the 1980s MCC made a major technological advance with the development of the Morris Publishing System, an innovative PC-based publishing system. It was used at MCC and later sold to other publishers. MCC had prided itself in being a leader in technology through its newspapers. It was one of the first newspaper publishers to use computerized typesetting, to have completely computerized newsrooms and production departments, and to switch to an offset press. With the advent of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, most of MCC's daily newspapers became available online, offering information over the Internet.

In 1981 MCC acquired Quarter Horse News. This biweekly publication was established in 1978 to serve the quarter horse industry in the United States and several other countries. In 1983 the acquisition of Florida Publishing Co. for $200 million gave MCC its largest newspaper, the Florida Times-Union, in Jacksonville, Florida, as well as a smaller daily in St. Augustine, Florida.

In 1985 MCC acquired Naegele Outdoor Advertising Inc. Naegele had been founded in 1934 by Robert O. Naegele, Sr., in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the Indianapolis Business Journal, Naegele Outdoor Advertising was the third largest outdoor advertising company in the United States in 1990 with 18,000 billboards in 15 markets. Several divisions of Naegele were sold in 1991. The remaining divisions were renamed Fairway Outdoor Advertising.

In 1987 MCC established Morris News Service, which became a leading supplier of regional and national news. Bureaus were established in Atlanta, Georgia, and Austin, Texas, but all MCC writers and reporters contributed to the news service. In 1988 two of MCC's afternoon newspapers ceased publication, the Evening Journal in Lubbock, Texas, and the Jacksonville (Fla.) Journal. In 1989 the company launched Athens Magazine and purchased Gray's Sporting Journal. Gray's was established in 1975 as a hunting, fishing, and outdoor magazine that featured literary articles and color photo essays.

Continuing Growth Through Acquisitions: 1990s

In 1990 MCC acquired a second Alaskan daily newspaper in Kenai. It also launched Savannah Magazine. In August 1992 the National Barrel Horse Association was formed at a meeting at MCC's corporate offices in Augusta. The association became a division of MCC and marketed numerous events related to barrel horse racing, including world championship and state competitions. MCC would begin publishing Barrel Horse News in 1996. In 1993 the company purchased Spur magazine, which ceased publication in 1998. The afternoon newspaper Augusta (Ga.) Herald ceased publication in 1993. In 1994 MCC acquired Augusta magazine, which had been started in 1975. The company sold its North Georgia nondaily newspapers and its commercial printing plant, as well as nondailies in Crescent City, Florida.

MCC acquired Stauffer Communications, Inc. of Topeka, Kansas, in 1994 for $275 million. At the time MCC owned 12 daily newspapers and several magazines. The acquisition boosted MCC from the 24th to the 17th largest newspaper company in the United States. It nearly doubled MCC's gross income from $140 million to an estimated $260 million.

Morris first submitted a bid for Stauffer in July 1994, competing against about 30 other companies. MCC was notified of its winning bid in September 1994 and the purchase was finalized in June 1995. It included 20 daily newspapers, nine nondailies and shoppers, three magazines, seven television stations, eight radio stations and networks, a software company, a computer retail store, an insurance company, and a security alarm company. During 1995 and 1996 MCC sold off the magazines, television stations, insurance company, and security alarm system. Over the next five years MCC would expand its holdings of radio stations, nondaily newspapers, and shoppers, or free community papers. The computer store was closed in 1999.

Of the 20 daily newspapers acquired from Stauffer, the largest was the Topeka Capital-Journal with a daily circulation of 63,500, making it the fourth largest MCC daily newspaper. The only other Stauffer daily with more than 10,000 daily circulation was the Holland (Mich.) Sentinel with 20,000.

The Stauffer acquisition included four free community papers, or shoppers, in small markets in Florida, Kansas, and Missouri. MCC would expand its free community papers division over the next five years through acquisitions and by establishing new papers. Seven additional free community papers were acquired in 1996 and early 1997 in small markets in Michigan, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Colorado. New papers were launched in small markets in Florida and Nebraska in 1997. Others were purchased in 1999, and three related Nebraska publications were started in December 1999, giving MCC more than 20 free community papers in all.

In 1995 MCC acquired Alaska magazine and the Alaska Journal of Commerce. Alaska was founded in 1935; published ten times a year, the magazine featured articles about life on America's 'last frontier.' The Alaska Journal of Commerce was established in 1976 and carried general business news covering areas such as tourism, construction, transportation, commercial fishing, and other industries important to Alaska.

In the fall of 1995 MCC entered the Internet business by building an Internet service provider (ISP) and establishing a division of online services to help MCC newspapers develop and execute a World Wide Web publishing strategy. The company's first ISP was built at the Topeka Capital-Journal, followed by an ISP in Augusta. By the end of the decade MCC was operating similar services in five other locations, all managed from Topeka by Morris Digital Works. Within a year of establishing its online division, approximately three-fourths of the company's newspapers had an online presence. In 1997 MCC joined the New York Times Co. as lead investors in Zip2 Corp., a company that would provide MCC with a suite of online products for local content such as restaurants, movies, community events, and other information. By 2000 MCC's online division also operated a web hosting business in Augusta, hosting most of MCC's newspapers' web sites as well as hundreds of those newspapers' customers' own web sites.

MCC's online division also included Stauffer Media Systems, which was established in 1977 to offer business and accounting software designed specifically for the newspaper industry. It later developed leading pre-press software systems. MCC acquired the business in 1995 with its purchase of Stauffer Communications, Inc.

The year 1996 was one of several acquisitions. MCC's purchase of Flashes Publishers, Inc. in Allegan, Michigan, included the monthly West Michigan Senior Times, the weekly Flashes Shopping Guide, and a commercial printing operation. MCC picked up another commercial printing operation, a weekly newspaper, and two free community papers with the purchase of Broadcaster Press in Vermillion, South Dakota. Other acquisitions that year included Alaskan Equipment Trader and two free community papers in Nebraska. The afternoon newspaper Savannah (Ga.) Evening Press ceased publication that year. For 1996 MCC's revenues were reported at $360 million.

The two commercial printing operations that MCC acquired in 1996 formed its commercial printing division. Broadcaster Press was a leading centralized web printer in South Dakota that printed 15 weekly newspapers and free community papers along with several monthly publications. The second printing operation came with the purchase of Flashes Publishers of Allegan, Michigan. In addition to owning two nonheat-set web presses, it had its own saddle-stitch binding operation and a full-service pre-press operation. By the end of the decade the Flashes printing operation was producing about 100 million printed pieces annually.

MCC entered the book publishing business with the acquisition of The Globe Pequot Press in 1997 from AT & T Wireless Services, Inc. Based in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, Globe Pequot published a broad selection of travel-related books, maps, and cassettes. Later in the year MCC purchased Gateway Books and folded it into the Globe Pequot operation. Gateway specialized in travel guides for seniors and retired travelers. ICS Books Inc., based in Merrillville, Indiana, was added to the Globe Pequot operation in 1998; it published outdoor recreation books.

Before the end of 1997 MCC acquired Best Read Guides Franchise Corp., including 17 franchisee tourist guides and related online services. MCC subsequently launched several of its own Best Read Guides, both in print and online-only editions, as part of its tourist publications division. These digest-sized magazines and online-only editions numbered 37 by 2000 and covered resort markets in the United States and Great Britain.

Other 1997 acquisitions included the Milepost annual travel guide, which was the oldest continuously published guidebook for Alaska and northwestern Canada. MCC launched three free community papers and purchased two others in 1997. Toward the end of 1997 the Hilton Head News was absorbed into the Savannah newspaper operation.

MCC greatly expanded its holdings in radio broadcasting in 1997 and 1998. In late 1997 MCC purchased seven Palm Springs, California, radio stations, which it organized as the Desert Radio Group. In 1998 MCC acquired six stations in Alaska and seven in Washington from Seattle-based Pioneer Broadcasting Co., Inc. MCC added two more Washington stations in 2000. The company's Anchorage Media Group consisted of six radio stations in Alaska. Its nine Washington stations were organized in two groups, the Columbia River Media Group and the Grays Harbor Radio Group. The company also owned an AM-FM duopoly in Amarillo, Texas; an AM-FM combination in Topeka, Kansas; and three Topeka-based radio networks (Kansas Agriculture Network, Kansas Information Network, and Wildcat Sports Network). The Kansas and Texas properties were part of the Stauffer Communications, Inc. purchase of 1995. In 2000 MCC acquired Riviera Radio, an English-language radio station based in the European principality of Monaco that served the international tourist community on the French Riviera.

MCC's first international venture was the acquisition of London-based Cadogan Guides and the establishment of Morris Publications Ltd. in London in 1998. Cadogan published more than 80 travel titles covering popular destinations worldwide. In late 1998 MCC entered the international tourist publication market with the acquisition of London This Week, which became Best Read Guide/London, and London in One. (London in One ceased publication in late 1999.) MCC also acquired Londinium, a quarterly that listed events and activities for hotel guests in London. The three tourist publications were also published by Morris Communications Ltd. of London.

MCC expanded its outdoor advertising business by purchasing three outdoor advertising companies and absorbing them into Fairway Outdoor Advertising. The acquired companies were Metro Outdoor Advertising in Greenville, South Carolina; Desert Outdoor Advertising in Palm Springs, California; and AAA Outdoor Advertising in Burlington, North Carolina. The Palm Springs purchase gave Fairway sign placement in such cities as Los Angeles and Hollywood. Fairway had five branches: 1) GSA, located in Greenville and Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Asheville, North Carolina; 2) Palm Springs, California; 3) Triad, in Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem, North Carolina; 4) Triangle East, in Raleigh, Durham, and Wilmington, North Carolina; and 5) Twin Cities, in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota.

MCC entered the direct marketing business in 1998 with the purchase of two Miami-based target marketing firms, The Mailworks and Broadcast Direct Marketing. The companies were renamed Morris Direct Marketing, then became SmarTTarget Marketing. SmarTTarget Marketing provided list services, database systems, creative services, in-depth research, and other target marketing services.

During 1998 MCC launched Water's Edge and Kalamazoo (Mich.) Express, a specialized publication. Water's Edge was a regional magazine aimed at people living on local waterways along the southern East Coast from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to Daytona Beach, Florida.

MCC continued to expand in 1999 with the acquisition of two nondaily newspapers, a free community paper, and a specialized publication, all in South Carolina. It also added two nondaily newspapers and two free community papers in Minnesota and a free community paper in Michigan. During the year three free community papers were launched in Nebraska. MCC's magazine division added two specialized publications, Coastal Senior and Coastal Antiques and Art, aimed at readers in the Savannah, Georgia area, and one in Ohio, The Horsetrader.

In transactions not already covered, MCC added to its Alaskan holdings in 2000 with the purchase of two nondaily newspapers in Alaska, and Destination Alaska, a digest-sized port guide for passengers of cruise ships docking in Seattle, Seward, Alaska, and Vancouver, Canada.

Acquisitions in early 2000 also included a specialized publication, Senior Living, in Tennessee, as well as start-up of another, Tennessee Antiques. For the future, MCC would likely continue to grow by strengthening its divisions through selective acquisitions. The company was owned and managed by the Morris family. Chairman and CEO Williams S. Morris III turned 66 in 2000. His three children, Will, Tyler, and Susie, had all been involved in company management--Will served as president of the corporation. There has been no indication of the company being a takeover target.

Principal Subsidiaries: Fairway Outdoor Advertising, Inc.; Globe Pequot Press; Morris Publications Ltd. (England); SmarTTarget Marketing; Morris Digital Works; Stauffer Media Systems; Southeastern Newspapers Corp.

Principal Divisions: Newspaper Publishing; Outdoor Advertising; Radio Broadcasting; Publishing and Book Distribution; Tourist Publications; Magazines and Specialized Publications; Free Community Papers; Direct Marketing; Commercial Printing; Online and Computer Services; Event Marketing.

Principal Competitors: Cox Enterprises, Inc.; Gannett Co., Inc.; Knight-Ridder, Inc.; McClatchy Newspapers, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Ascenzi, Joseph, 'Georgia Firm Snaps Up 7 Coachella Valley, Calif., Radio Stations,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, November 24, 1997.
  • Badger, T.A., 'Augusta, Ga.-Based Morris Communications Expands in Alaska,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, August 29, 1998.
  • Bamberger, Michael, 'Stop the Presses,' Sports Illustrated, April 5, 1999, p. G32.
  • Davis, Joel, and Lucia Moses, 'Morris Tunes in to Riviera Radio,' Editor & Publisher, May 1, 2000, p. 16.
  • Fitzgerald, Mark, 'Morris Buys Stauffer,' Editor & Publisher, August 6, 1994, p. 21.
  • 'Georgia's Morris Communications Buys Publisher of Travel Guidebooks,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, April 17, 1997.
  • Hopfinger, Tony, 'Augusta, Ga.-Based Communications Firm Broadens Alaska Reach,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, February 15, 2000.
  • Ketzenberger, John, 'For Sale: Owner's Decision to Focus on Newspapers Puts Naegele on the Block,' Indianapolis Business Journal, April 2, 1990, p. 1A.
  • Lehman, Carrie Sloan, 'Morris Communications of Augusta, Ga. to Buy Seattle Firm's Radio Assets,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, August 17, 1998.
  • 'Morris Communications Becomes Part Owner of Zip2 Corp.,' Knight-Ridder/Tribune Business News, November 14, 1997.
  • Morris Communications Corp., 'History,' July 21, 2000,
  • 'A Quantum Leap for Morris Empire,' Georgia Trend, September 1994, p. 18.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 36. St. James Press, 2001.