The Smithfield Times, first published in 1920, will have new owners as it enters its 101st year of service to the community.
An agreement in principle has been reached between John and Anne Edwards, who have owned the paper since 1986, and veteran Virginia newspaper publisher Steve Stewart, principal owner of Smithfield Newsmedia LLC, a new Virginia entity, for Stewart to purchase the paper. Legal paperwork will be completed and signed in the coming weeks and the transaction is expected to close no later than Nov. 1.
The Smithfield Times was established by a group of local businessmen in 1920 and operated under a series of owners and managers for its first decade. In 1930, Jesse L. Scott and his wife Lillian purchased the paper and published it until 1962, when they sold it to Tom and Betty Phillips.
John and Anne Edwards, both Isle of Wight County natives, returned to Smithfield in 1972 when John was hired by the Phillipses as managing editor/reporter. The Edwardses purchased the paper from the Phillipses in 1986.
When the Edwardses stepped into the Phillipses’ shoes, Anne left a successful career as a preschool director and teacher at Benn’s United Methodist Church to become the newspaper’s business manager. John became editor and publisher.
John Edwards said of his 47 years with the newspaper, “It was what I always wanted to do. Writing about this community, its history and its people has been a tremendously satisfying experience.
“And the people who have worked alongside Anne and me in this small newspaper are among the finest I’ve ever known. It’s been an honor to work with them to provide this community with professional journalism for nearly half a century.
“Now, however, it’s time for a new chapter in The Smithfield Times’ history. As we have approached our retirement, which age makes inevitable, a primary goal of ours is to ensure that the newspaper continues to publish. Steve Stewart is young, imaginative and knows the newspaper industry inside and out. He is fully aware of the challenges facing the industry today and is well positioned to meet them. The residents of Isle of Wight and Surry will be well served in the years ahead with Steve as publisher of this newspaper.”
Stewart, 52, is senior vice president of Boone Newspapers Inc. (BNI) and a former publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald and The Tidewater News in Franklin. He is majority owner of The Coastland Times, a twice-weekly newspaper serving the Outer Banks. The Smithfield Times will join the Suffolk, Franklin and Outer Banks newspapers as affiliates of BNI, founded by former Suffolk News-Herald Publisher James B. “Jim” Boone Jr.
“I am honored to succeed John and Anne Edwards in service to the people of Isle of Wight and Surry,” Stewart said. “As a neighboring newspaper publisher, I have long admired John as a newspaperman. The Smithfield Times is what a community newspaper should be in every respect. Our commitment is to build on the excellent foundation laid by John and Anne and strengthen an important institution for this community.”
Smithfield Times veteran staff member Diana McFarland will remain with the newspaper as its managing editor. During her 16 years with the Times, McFarland has won awards in nearly every category of journalism at the state level, and was part of the team that earned The Smithfield Times’ two community service and journalistic integrity awards — the highest honor bestowed by the Virginia Press Association. As a resident of Isle of Wight County, McFarland is strongly committed to her role as government watchdog, and informing her neighbors about the issues and concerns of the community, as well as its successes.
John Edwards has accepted an offer to continue writing his popular “In The Short Rows” column. The columns have formed a body of work since 1999 that has recently been published in a series of three books.
Under the Edwardses’ ownership, The Smithfield Times earned recognition as one of the state’s top community weekly papers. The paper won the Virginia Press Association’s Community Service Award twice, once for its detailed and informative coverage following Hurricane Isabelle. Edwards has won the Lathan Mims Award for Editorial Service to the Community seven times, the largest number ever awarded to one person.
Beyond the paper, Edwards actively worked to expand the public’s access to government and served on two separate legislative study committees charged with rewriting the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, in 1989 and 1999. He was then appointed by the Virginia Senate to be a charter member of the Virginia Freedom of Information Council, where he served for eight years, the maxi-mum time permitted by law.
Both Edwardses have been and remain active in Isle of Wight and Smithfield.
Anne has been a member and president of the 110-year-old Shakespeare Class and is currently president of the Isle of Wight Museum Foundation. When the couple’s children were school age, Anne was active at all levels of PTA work.
John was instrumental in forming Historic Smithfield, which raised private funds for and planned the Main Street Revitalization Project in the early 1990s, and more recently purchased and refurbished the Colonial Courthouse of 1750. He was a board member and president of Historic St. Luke’s Restoration and led the most recent restoration of the church and its grounds.
Together, the couple founded and has hosted the Summer Concert Series, a project that just completed its 33rd season. The series is co-sponsored by the Isle of Wight Arts League. Both the Edwardses and the Arts League are hopeful that the series will continue.
Other stockholders of Smithfield Newsmedia will be Tony Clark, publisher of The Tidewater News; John Carr, publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald; BNI; and Carpenter Newsmedia LLC.
Article printed in The Smithfield Times’ Oct. 16, 2019 edition and shared with the VPA for republication.