Former owner recalls bittersweet memories

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Jeff Byrd described the first time he walked into the office of the Tryon Daily Bulletin as walking into his grandmother’s living room. “It was very comfortable,” he recalled. “I felt at home there.” 

Jeff Byrd

Byrd and his wife Helen decided they liked the area and bought the paper in December of 1989. Though he made lots of additions and changes, Byrd also worked hard to keep intact the paper’s soul that had made it such a part of the local community.

“They [the former publisher Seth Vining, Jr.] didn’t really have a staff of reporters,” said Byrd. “People would wander in the door with bits of stuff. It was a real community [written] press.”

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Byrd, who came up as a reporter in the newspaper industry, said he started covering things in Tryon as a reporter. He said when he started going to city council and school board meetings there was a lot of controversy.

“One councilman said, ‘When you report on what we’re doing it has a chilling effect on us,’” Byrd recalled. “I told him I was just doing my job.”

Some of the biggest changes that Byrd implemented included reinforcing the old bank building on N. Trade Street with steel beams, pouring a concrete floor and bringing in a bigger press. This allowed them to print many more pages much faster. “Before that it would take all day just to get 16 pages out,” he said.

Byrd also re-designed the masthead, put the postal information on page two and, because of the new press, was able to start running bigger pictures. He also added an equestrian section.

Byrd became a big part of the community, serving on several boards and helped get Pangaea, a fiber optic network in town. Looking back he credits many people for contributing to the success of the paper during these years, including current TDB reporter, Leah Justice.

“Leah got us over the hump of dealing with the locals, especially local politics,” he said. “She knows everybody and is related to everybody. People know and respect her.”

Another person Byrd said was a big contributor to the paper’s success was Mike Edwards. “Mike came in and worked his tail off. He built the financial strength of the paper,” said Byrd. “We couldn’t have grown without him.”

Wanda Cash was the paper’s business manager. According to Byrd, she ran the staff on the front desk, handled all billing and accounting, the classifieds and the daily proofs. Cash had started working at the paper under Seth Vining, Sr. and continued with Seth, Jr., then worked for Byrd for 20 years.

“She worked for Papa Vining and did everything,” said Byrd. “She knew everyone and every account detail. She was a real asset to the paper.”

Byrd mentioned several others as being instrumental to the success of the Bulletin during those years, including Editor Chris Daily, pressman Tony Elder, Editor Barbara Tilley, Editor and typesetter Judy Lanier, Appointments Account Manager Joyce Cox and many others too numerous to mention.

With the coming of the Internet in the mid-2000s, Byrd could see the changing future for newspapers. While it opened up the world for reporting, the Internet also took away the industry. “The industry couldn’t figure out how to make newspapers a paying thing on the Internet,” he said.

Byrd regretted selling the paper, but realized he was not in the right place to keep it going. In 2010 the Bulletin was sold to Tryon Newsmedia, LLC. The newly formed North Carolina company is majority owned by Todd H. Carpenter, president and chief operating officer of Boone Newspapers Inc. The new company is managed by BNI, and is located in Alabama.