The Savannah Morning News covers coastal Georgia, a number of inland counties, and a small portion of South Carolina. With a circulation of approximately 56,600 daily, and 70,000 on Sundays, the medium-sized paper is smaller than both the Augusta Chronicle and the Macon Telegraph. It has a newsroom staff of about seventy, and the paper’s lofty motto is “Light of the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry.”
During the tenure of Frank T. Anderson, who served as publisher from 1991 to 2005, the paper won the Georgia Press Association’s top award—first place in General Excellence—four times. National awards include Presbyterian College’s Hammet Award for “responsible, ethical and courageous work in broadcast or print journalism,” and the James K. Batten Award for Excellence in Civic Journalism. Today, Julian Miller serves as publisher, and Susan Catron is executive editor.
To find a kindred spirit, the Savannah Morning News must look beyond Georgia to such other tourist meccas as New Orleans, Louisiana, and San Francisco, California, where newsstand sales also play an unusually important role in the local paper’s bottom line. With vacationers swelling the picturesque streets of Savannah throughout the year, the editors plan their editions with two distinct audiences in mind—longtime subscribers and out-of-towners looking for food and entertainment.
The Morning News stands apart from its Georgia brethren in other ways as well. Its religion pages are the most ecumenical in the state, a testament to the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Jewish communities with a long history in Savannah. Furthermore, an overall sense of separateness pervades the collective psyche of Savannah and Chatham County, where more liberal social attitudes and relaxed liquor laws contrast colorfully with the rest of rural Georgia. The newspaper, however, generally takes politically conservative stands on its editorial pages.
The newspaper was founded as the Daily Morning News in 1850 by William Tappan Thompson, who wrote the “Major Jones” series of humor stories. Except for a brief period during the Civil War (1861-65), Thompson edited the newspaper until his death in 1882. When the Civil War erupted, he vigorously championed the Southern cause until he was forced to leave Savannah in 1864, as Union general William T. Sherman’s soldiers approached the city on their march to the sea. In 1868 Thompson resumed the editorship of the newspaper, renamed the Savannah Morning News, and became a leading spokesman for the South during the Reconstruction years.
The paper’s most famous editor was Joel Chandler Harris (his title was actually associate editor), who went on to write the Uncle Remus tales. Harris, who was named second in command in 1870, was considered a muckraker for using the paper as a bully pulpit against dueling, a local chivalric tradition. In contrast to the typical media coverage of dueling at that time, which tended to romanticize it as a rite of manhood and honor, Harris’s reportage portrayed dueling as a misbegotten anachronism, and his articles led to its banning. Harris went on to work for the Atlanta Constitution.
In more recent times, the Morning News has conformed to the conglomerate-oriented trends of the day. In 1960 Southeastern Newspapers (later Morris Communications), an Augusta-based chain, bought the dominant morning paper and eventually merged it with the fading Savannah Evening Press. The merger, allowed by the Newspaper Preservation Act, reflected what was happening elsewhere in the industry. A combined Sunday edition named the Savannah News-Press debuted in 1972. Morris closed theEvening Press in 1996, citing competition from television and other media.
A huge Morning News story in 1981 involved the lurid murder trial of a local aristocratic antiques collector. Although the case dominated the paper’s front page for quite some time, it might have remained but a salacious historical footnote had it not been for John Berendt’s best-selling book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Like other media across the nation, the Morning News devoted plenty of ink to the voracious hurricane season of 2005, which produced Katrina, the hurricane that devastated coastal areas in Louisiana and Mississippi. As the only large daily paper on the Georgia shore, the Morning News is the state’s paper of record on a host of environmental issues, such as wetland preservation, red tide, coastline erosion, and water pollution. Among its frequent topics are the nearby nuclear power plant and the shrimping industry. With tourism as the bedrock of the city’s economy, the hospitality sector is the top priority of the business section.