Ink In His Veins

Millard Grimes started his distinguished career in journalism six decades ago as a copy boy

Despite reports that Millard Grimes is one of the most gracious and humble of men, approaching him for an interview is just plain intimidating.

Not that the man himself is intimidating; as advertised, no subject could be more hospitable. But interviewing the man who owned Georgia Trend twice in his 60-year publishing career, for a profile in the pages of that same magazine, is daunting from the angle of provenance if nothing else. He owned these pages.

Yet sitting behind the desk in his pleasantly cluttered Athens office, Grimes says, “Ask away.” He not only answers but, being the true newspaperman he is, asks questions of his own.

“Do you think newspapers will survive the Internet?” Grimes asks. Then he quickly answers his own question. “I guess I’m lazy. I like to go outside, pick up my morning paper, and have everything right there. I don’t want to have to go on a computer to look for everything.”

Grimes, 76, will never be accused of being lazy. When he’s in town, he goes to the Broad Street offices of Grimes Publications, Inc., where he is president and CEO. The family-owned company runs six weekly newspapers in Georgia, the Manchester Star Mercury (Manchester), Harris County Journal (Hamilton), Meriwether Vindicator (Greenville), Hogansville Home News (Hogansville), Monroe County Reporter (Forsyth), and Talbotton New Era (Talbotton). Grimes stays in daily touch with each paper, reading pages, adjusting headlines, engaged in the work of newspapering.

Born in Newnan in 1930, Grimes grew up in LaGrange and Columbus and began working on the Columbus newspapers as a copy boy and summertime proof reader while still in high school. Next stop: the University of Georgia where he served as editor of The Red and Black student newspaper before graduating in 1951.

Returning to Columbus, Grimes was on staff at the Columbus Ledger as design editor when the paper earned the Pulitzer Prize for Community Service in 1955. Later that year, he made his first venture into newspaper ownership when he founded the Phenix Citizen in Alabama. He returned to Columbus in 1956 and by 1962 was named editor in chief of the Columbus Enquirer.

The war in Vietnam profoundly affected the Fort Benning/Columbus community and Grimes wisely sent reporter Charlie Black to cover the Air Cavalry Division in Southeast Asia. “Charlie was an embedded reporter before we knew what they were!” Grimes says.

With backing from an investment group, Grimes purchased the Opelika, Ala., Daily News in 1969, growing the circulation from 6,000 to 20,000 in nine years, quadrupling its gross income. During the late 1970s and ’80s, he bought and sold a variety of daily and weekly newspapers in Georgia and Alabama before indulging his long standing affection for magazines by purchasing Georgia Trend from the St. Petersburg Times in 1991.

Though he sold it a year later before buying it back in 1994, Grimes considers his Georgia Trend years the highlight of his career. “I wrote a column each month, I wrote inside copy, most of the headlines and cut lines,” he recalls. “It was a great experience for about six years. I was more an editor than a publisher.”

Feeling burned out, Grimes sold the magazine in 1999. He was only 68 at the time and still wanted something to do. “A friend of mine in Manchester surprisingly said he would sell the papers in his area which was basically the Columbus area, where I grew up,” he says.

Grimes travels to Manchester twice a month, writing a weekly column and making decisions regarding editorial content. “All our front pages carry local news,” says Grimes, who bemoans most newspaper coverage of the July primaries. “I want to see the final score,” he says. “Why do I have to go [online] to find out who won in a certain county?”

He says sports journalism, using stats [a box score] to tell the story, is a model for the rest of the paper. “I stress to [writers on our weeklies] to present information that’s easy to digest. I think we have to make it easier to get the information. Sure you can get news on the Internet or watch television but there’s still an advantage to having it all wrapped up in the newspaper.”

Spoken like a true ink-stained wretch.

Categories: Influential Georgians