Beth and Clay Neely have been named as the new publishers of The Newnan Times-Herald.
The announcement comes as the newspaper, Coweta County’s oldest business, celebrates its 152nd birthday. Beth Neely grew up in the newspaper’s offices and is the fifth generation in her family to work in the news business.
Her husband, Clay Neely, has been part of The Times-Herald’s news staff since 2013. He has covered public safety and local government, taken photographs and spearheaded the newspaper’s increased presence on the internet.
“We’re both honored to take on this duty at The Times-Herald, and hope to continue the role that the newspaper has filled for the past 152 years. As a family-owned paper, we’re connected to the community in way a corporate paper isn’t,” Beth said.
Both talked about The Times-Herald staff and their passion for putting out a good newspaper – with well-written, accurate news. “That’s something we take seriously every day,” Beth said.
“The people who write the news also live in our community,” Clay observed. “They and their families shop, worship, socialize and participate in life in Coweta. We want our product to be an accurate representation of that – because it's our community, not some faraway place we'll never visit with people we'll never meet."
Teaming up as co-publishers seems to be a good fit, they said. One benefit is being even more accessible to the community. “Clay and I are always around, and it's nice to know that if I'm needed in one place, Clay will still be available, and vice versa,” said Beth.
The newspaper itself is a component in the lives of Cowetans.
“We are a part of all the many stories here in the county,” Clay said. “We’re honored to be in anybody’s lives that wants us to be there.”
The Neelys succeed Walter C. Jones, an experienced Georgia journalist, who has been The Times-Herald’s publisher since June 2016. Jones has been named director of legislative affairs with the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services.
His last day at The Times-Herald is Friday, and he assumes his duties in Atlanta on Sept. 18.
Beth is the daughter of William W. “Billy” and Marianne C. Thomasson, president and vice-president, respectively, of The Newnan Times-Herald. Billy Thomasson’s father, James Thomasson, and grandfather, E.W. Thomasson, came to Newnan from Carrollton in 1935 and started The Newnan Times in 1936.
E.W. Thomasson’s father was a newspaper publisher in Arkansas and in Carroll County.
In 1947, The Newnan Times absorbed its rival, The Newnan Herald. The Herald was the first newspaper started in Georgia after the Civil War with its first issue published on Sept. 9, 1865.
As an infant, Beth’s crib was placed beside her mother’s desk at the newspaper – sometimes with the telephone receiver as a makeshift baby monitor to catch her cries, which would be amplified over the roar of the pressroom.
“It’s been a unique experience,” Beth said. “I’ve been involved in just about every aspect of the newspaper business at some point in my life.”
As a youngster, she helped Ella MacNabb, the longtime bookkeeper, count change and rode along to make deliveries and refill newspaper racks. She would help “cut” and “paste” graphics onto ad templates, back when scissors were still involved.
When she was a little older, her father built a wooden box for her to stand on to insert sections of the newspaper and stack them into bundles.
She also remembered watching her parents share duties and responsibilities. “There was always a solution that they were working on together,” she said. "I've been lucky to have them as role models, and know that their advice will continue to help us as we prepare to move forward."
The Neelys said they see a shared responsibility for publishing the newspaper as a good thing. “If I can’t figure out how do it, chances are Clay can. If Clay can’t figure something out, I probably can,” Beth said.
“We’re moving to another generation of the Thomasson family, which has been such a key part of this community,” Jones said. “Their love of Newnan and Coweta County is evident, and their commitment to its strength is sincere and heartfelt.”
The Neelys, he said, “bring ideas and imagination to the job.”
Jones, who was director of news services for Morris News Service before coming to The Times-Herald, reflected on his time at the publisher’s desk in Newnan. “I came here with the idea to take a look at the systems, top to bottom, and we made a number of changes,” he said.
There have been changes in personnel and in design. The Times-Herald moved to a new printer, The Anniston Star. The newspaper also launched NTH Boost, an internet service that promotes businesses above and beyond the norm.
“We stepped up our social media and kicked our headline service into high gear,” Jones said.
During Jones’ tenure, the newspaper became more active with Main Street Newnan, including participation in the Art Walk. The newspaper also is sponsoring a fund drive for the playground at the Howard Warner Community Center.
“We raised our visibility in the community,” Jones said.
A resident of Newnan for two decades, Jones has been a subscriber to The Newnan Times-Herald since he moved here. “I’m looking forward to seeing new things in the paper and to see it continue to get better,” he said.
A goal of the Neelys is “to continue building on the strides that Walter made,” Clay said. “He’s been a great ambassador to our community, and we’re in an excellent position to continue to build bridges and focus on the valuable contributions we make. ”
The Neelys live in Newnan and have two children, Charlie, 8, and Anna, 4.
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