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Early publisher left mark on Gregg County (April 2013)

Early publisher left mark on Gregg County
By Van Craddock

His name was J.W. Johnson and he had printer's ink in his veins.

Johnson jumped at the chance in 1888 to buy the Longview Clarion at the death of that newspaper's founder, F.M. Marschalk. For the next quarter century, Johnson left his mark on Gregg County through the pages of his eight-page weekly.
From the start there was no question where Johnson stood politically with his paper, which he soon renamed the Times-Clarion. Right on Page 1 was the paper's motto: "Democratic in Politics and Favoring the Promotion of Material Interests With Due Regard for the Rights of All."

It wasn't easy putting out a paper back then. For one thing, there was some pretty good competition down the street. Unlike today, multi-paper towns were pretty common. For a while Johnson had the local market to himself, but after the turn of the century Walter C. Holloway began publishing the Longview Daily News and a weekly called the Gregg County News.

The two men battled for readers, promoting civic endeavors and playing up the latest social club gathering or barn fire. Johnson also attracted subscribers with his humor. One Times-Clarion article told the following tale.

"A grade teacher, after having a medical examination in her room recently, wrote the following note to the parents of a certain little boy: 'Your little boy, Charles, shows signs of astigmatism. Will you please investigate and take steps to correct it?' To which she received a note in reply saying: 'I don't understand exactly what Charles has been doing, but I have walloped him tonight and you can wallop him tomorrow, and that ought to help some.'"

But J.W. Johnson was mostly an unabashed booster of his hometown. Under the headline "Get Busy" he admonished his readers to do what they could to boost the little town:

"Citizens of Longview, are you aware that more towns die for want of confidence on the part of business men and lack of public spirit than from any other causes? Longview wants the Santa Fe shops, a modern school building, a cotton mill and furniture factory and, if the citizens will only do their duty, she will get them. Get busy and show the outside world that we have the most progressive town and enterprising people to be found anywhere."

Johnson also warned against negativity:

"The chronic kicker is a menace to his town, to his family and to himself, and should such one muster up enough courage to commit suicide, we believe the family and the citizens would say, 'Well done, thou bad and unfaithful servant."

One day someone asked why he wanted to be a newspaperman. He responded in the March 25, 1909, edition of the Times-Clarion:

"The man who edits the average country newspaper cannot well avoid treading on somebody's toes continually; must expect to be censured often for unintentional failures; must expect to be called a coward because he does not 'pitch into' everything that somebody thinks is wrong; and a fool if he speaks out too plainly on public evils;

"He must expect to grind other people's axes and turn the grindstone himself. Still we think it is one of the noblest professions on earth; the one in which the earnest man can do the most good to his fellow man and wield much power for good."

Johnson published the Times-Clarion until his death in 1915. His widow took over, eventually selling the paper. In 1925 the Times-Clarion merged with another local paper, the Longview Leader.

The newly consolidated newspaper was called the Longview Daily News.