Wilson Times Co. purchases Johnstonian newspapers

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The Wilson Times Co. will purchase the Kenly News, Pine Level News, Princeton News Leader and The Selma News and combine the four publications into a county-wide weekly newspaper under the Johnstonian News banner, company executives have announced.

“While each paper covers its community well, we believe it makes sense to centralize Johnston County’s local news in one edition to serve readers of each city and town together,” said Keven Zepezauer, Times president and publisher. “As one of the fastest-growing counties in North Carolina, Johnston deserves a local newspaper all residents can call their own.”

The Johnstonian News will premiere Tuesday, Sept. 4, and all current subscriptions to the Kenly, Pine Level, Princeton and Selma newspapers will be honored. The paper will continue to be based at 201 W. Second St. in Kenly.

Rick and Karen Stewart, owners of the newspapers since 1981, will retire and Zepezauer will become the Johnstonian News’ publisher when the sale closes on Aug. 31.

The Wilson Times’ editor, Corey Friedman; sales and marketing director, Shana Hoover; and circulation manager, Chris Coley, will serve in the same respective roles at the Johnstonian News.

Keith Barnes, who covers Kenly and Pine Level, and Steve Reed, who covers Princeton and Selma, will continue their work as Johnstonian News reporters. Sports editor Michael Held will retain his role for the combined publication.

“Working together will allow us to share resources and give readers and advertisers more bang for their buck,” Zepezauer said. “As a family company ourselves, we admire what Rick and Karen Stewart have done with the Johnstonian group, and we will strive each day to honor their legacy. As the paper’s territory grows, we won’t forget our roots.”

While the reporting staff will remain based in Johnston County, the paper will be produced in Wilson, where the Times operates a page design hub with contract layout services available to newspapers, magazines and specialty publications.

The Stewarts purchased Kenly News in December 1981 from Hart and Florence Mershon, who had owned the paper since 1975. The paper was founded in 1973 by the late Lewis Lawrence of Fuquay-Varina, with the assistance of North Johnston High School students.

The Kenly News added the Pine Level edition of the Kenly News, which evolved into the Pine Level News. In 2000, the Stewarts and Dennis Davis of Selma started The Selma News.

When Davis retired, the Stewarts became sole owners. In 2015, the Stewarts purchased The Princeton News Leader from former publisher Barry Merrill.

“We are excited about what the Times is going to do,” said Stewart. “We believe Keven and his staff will take local coverage to a much higher level, in print and online, than we could ever have done.”

Stewart added, “My first job in the newspaper business was at The Wilson Daily Times. I grew up next door to Times owner Morgan Dickerman and his family. I was a newspaper delivery boy for the paper when I was in high school.

“It always had been my hope that when Karen and I decided to retire the paper would be taken over by the Times. In recent months I’ve come to know Keven well. He’s a visionary leader with great ideas and abilities. He’s a strong family man who knows the importance of community. We sincerely believe God has brought all this together.”

Added Stewart, “I’ve know the new leadership including editor Corey Friedman and sales manager Shana Hoover for many years. They are top-notch and will do an outstanding job for our communities.”

The Wilson Times Co. publishes the Times, a 122-year-old daily newspaper, Wide Awake Wilson, a monthly entertainment guide, and Wilson: The Magazine.

The company also operates event ticketing website WAWTix.com and regional car-shopping website ENCWheels.com and has a partial ownership stake in the Wilson County Phone Directory and Mobile Billboards.

The Times traces its roots to Zion’s Landmark, a Primitive Baptist publication founded by Elder P.D. Gold in 1867. His son, John Gold, founded the Times in 1896.

The company’s chairman and CEO is Morgan Dickerman III, the newspaper’s fifth-generation family owner.

In June, The Wilson Times Co. acquired The Enterprise of Spring Hope, a 72-year-old newspaper providing weekly coverage of southern Nash County.

“Geographically, it makes sense for local papers here in eastern North Carolina to join forces,” Zepezauer said. “Nash, Wilson and Johnston are next-door neighbors, and we’re excited to add Johnston County to our footprint as a growing hometown media company.”

Effective Sept. 3, Johnstonian News office hours will be 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Services such as copying, faxing, business card printing, rubber stamps and laminating will be discontinued.