One of Pierce County’s oldest businesses, The Blackshear Times, is 150 years old this year and is changing ownership for the first time in nearly 50 of those years.
Times Editor and Publisher Robert M. Williams Jr., an Effingham County native, and his wife, Cheryl, sold Pierce County’s local newspaper to MC Gardner Publishing Co. Inc. Matt Gardner, formerly of Baxley and Folkston, and his wife, Carrie, will be moving to Blackshear, where Matt becomes the latest editor and publisher in The Times’ long history. The changeover took effect with the July 3 issue.
Carrie Gardner will be a first-grade teacher at Blackshear Elementary School. Matt has previously been associated with his family’s newspapers in Baxley and Folkston. The Gardners have two daughters, Mattie, 7, and Makenzie, 4.
“I wasn’t sure this day would ever really come,” said Robert Williams. “Owning a newspaper like The Blackshear Times was my dream job as a young child, and it has afforded me a wonderful life, countless opportunities and helped me make many friends, here and across the nation. After nearly a half-century, however, it’s time for new blood to lead this newspaper on to continued success because Blackshear and Pierce County deserve nothing less than the best.”
Robert and Cheryl Williams are both former GPA presidents. Robert Williams is also a former president of National Newspaper Association and a winner of the organization’s James O. Amos Award in 2007. The award , one of the highest honors given in the community newspaper industry, recognizes someone who has provided distinguished service and leadership to the community press and his or her community. In Georgia, Williams has long been recognized as a forceful advocate for sunshine in government.
Williams expressed his appreciation to the newspaper’s readers and advertisers for their support and to the newspaper’s staff members who have been the key to the newspaper’s excellence. The Blackshear Times is among Georgia’s most honored newspapers, having won more than 400 awards under Williams’ leadership in virtually every area of journalism and advertising.
Williams also credits his wife, Cheryl, for keeping their business in good stead over decades so he could focus on covering the news.
“To be a good newspaper, first you have to be a good business and — thanks to Cheryl — we have been able to do that,” Williams said. “Her diligence in handling our business side, occasionally in difficult times, has been remarkable.”
Cheryl Williams says she has some trepidations about retirement but believes she is ready.
“I have mixed emotions about retiring even though I have often said lately, ‘I’m ready!’ Having worked all of my life, it will be quite different not getting up and going to work,” she said.
“I’m proud to have worked for The Blackshear Times, one of the top weekly newspapers in the state. I will miss my co-workers, our customers who have become good friends. Thanks to all of you for supporting The Times.”
Matt Gardner is a third-generation newspaper man, following both his grandfather, grandmother, uncles and father as a newspaper publisher. He has been working in the newspaper business most of his life, beginning by helping insert flyers into The Alma Times and The Baxley News-Banner as a youngster and started working full time in 2001 by helping to print and deliver papers. Gardner became the managing editor of The Baxley News-Banner in 2009 when his uncle, Jamie Gardner, purchased the paper. Gardner became the editor of the Charlton County Herald in Folkston in 2016.
News Editor Sarah Gove, staff writer Jason Deal, graphic designer Julie Cunningham and office manager Joan Teglas-Duplessis will continue working at The Blackshear Times.
“I want to thank Robert and Cheryl for trusting me to carry on a tradition of producing a quality product for the community,” Matt Gardner said. “The staff and I will continue to work hard for the citizens of Pierce County, and I am devoted to earning their trust in me,” he said.