Jerry Tidwell, TPA’s 119th president, graduated from Andrews High School in 1963, along with fellow Texas newspaper publishers and Texas Press Association past presidents Roy McQueen and Larry Crabtree.
Tidwell majored in management and graduated from Texas Christian University in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. After graduation, he worked for four years as an industrial engineer in Fort Worth.
He began his newspaper career in 1970 as advertising manager of the Andrews County News.
He transferred to the Seminole Sentinel where he was advertising manager for three years.
In 1976 he was named publisher of the Lamb County News in Littlefield, and in 1979 became publisher of the Hood County News.
Tidwell married his high school sweetheart, Vana, in 1966. They have two children.
He was president of North and East Texas Press Association in 1984-85 and is a recipient of that association’s Sam Holloway Award.He received West Texas Press Association’s Harold Hudson Memorial Award in 2001. Hudson also was an NNA president.
Tidwell served as president of the National Newspaper Association in 2006-07.
Tidwell is a member of the Lake Granbury Medical Center board of trustees and Children’s Advocacy Center board of directors.
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Jan. 23, 2010
I’m Jerry Tidwell. I was born in 1935 in Hobbs, New Mexico, we lived in Denver City, Texas, but that was the closest hospital. I’ve been the publisher of the Hood County News for the last 30 years. So what else?
Cash: How did you get there?
Tidwell: Through James Roberts, part of the Roberts Publishing Group. After I graduated from TCU I went to work at LTV making airplanes during the Vietnam War, I was an industrial engineer, I hated it. I just, I was bored stiff. I had got my degree in management and great pay, great benefits and it was horrible. So James Roberts hired me as his advertising manager and sports writer in our home town of Andrews. And it was great. I loved it from day one. James would, he had horrible work habits. He worked extremely hard but he would begin working each day some time after lunch and then on deadline nights we would finish between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning and if the restaurants had opened yet then he would take us to breakfast and it, it just nearly killed me. And I thought, if I ever run the paper I’m not gonna run it like this and we don’t. We have families and there’s other things to do besides the newspaper. But it was great and I loved it and from there I went to Seminole as ad manager and sports writer for three years and then I was publisher in Littlefield, near Lubbock, three and a half years and it was just great. The nicest people, a farming community, which is now fallen on hard times like most farming communities, but I just loved it. And then he offered me the job in Granbury, which was at that time a small promotion and we couldn’t decide whether to go. We loved Littlefield and, but we moved because there was, it was in August, a hail storm completely destroyed the cotton crop, I mean it was down to the stalks so we knew there was no income for a year or two and we could see the potential in Granbury. And it was the best thing we ever did, was going to Granbury.
Cash: Give us a timeframe on that. When did you go to work for Mr. Roberts in Andrews and then when did you finally end up in Granbury.
Tidwell: Went to work in Andrews in 1970 and went to Granbury in 1979.
Cash: As publisher?
Tidwell: Yes, uh-huh.
Cash: And you were trained as an engineer?
Tidwell: Well I had my degree in—
Cash: In management?
Tidwell: Management, yeah. My job at LTV was just shuffling paper. It was, there was nothing glorious about it.
Cash: So what sort of practical training or formal training did you have? Or was it strictly on the job?
Tidwell: On the job.
Cash: Tell us about it. Tell us about the learning curve.
Tidwell: At LTV?
Cash: No, in the newspaper business.
Tidwell: Oh, yeah. I didn’t know anything so I would write my sports stories and James would edit it and coach me and, they weren’t bad. They weren’t award-winning by any stretch. Selling, basically he just threw me out there and said go call on them and knock on doors. That’s what I did and went to some Press Association meetings and things and I think it’s basically, selling’s primarily customer service. I always wanted to be able to go back again. If you pressure somebody you can probably get that sale today but you may not ever get another one. So try that, try we want this ad but we want it next month or whenever, too.
Cash: And you’ve put that philosophy into place?
Tidwell: Oh, yeah.
Cash: Hood County News?
Tidwell: We don’t, it’s the same thing. We want to be welcome when we go in and welcome when we come back and we’ll get the ads when the customer decides it will be helpful to them.
Cash: Tell us a little bit about your relationship with Mr. Roberts and the Roberts Group over the years.
Tidwell: Well, it’s a double-edge sword. If you were an employee at the Andrews County News, you weren’t treated, you— It was okay, but you were, he didn’t know a lot about you, didn’t care a lot. It was get out the next paper and, which that’s what I try not to be with my staff. And then when you become, became a publisher, then it was completely different and everything about you and everything about your family was always there to support you. Hardly ever did you get griped-out, but it was, it was so seldom that it would make a real impression on you. I mean it wasn’t like you beat your dog every day so it so the dog doesn’t understand why he’s getting beaten. When you, when James griped you out he would give you, wow, I’ve got to do better, I’ve got to correct that.
Cash: So you made a couple of comments about how you learned lessons about how not to manage from the way you were managed.
Tidwell: I just, the bottom line is you want to treat people the way that you’d like to be treated and it’s be nice to them, be sincere, be interested in them. I have goals in my life but I’ve got to always remember that they have goals in theirs and it’s my job to help them reach their goals, whatever they are. Then if it’s leaving the Hood County News to reach their goals, I need to help them get there.
Cash: Tell us about your paper. Tell us about your community and some of the challenges and triumphs over the years.
Tidwell: Oh, like all newspaper people, Granbury is the greatest town in the world. Of course everybody will say that about their hometown. The newspaper was founded in 1886 by a, by David Crockett’s son, Ashley Crockett. And Elizabeth Crockett, Davey’s wife, her grave is there in Granbury and it’s the smallest State Park in Texas and she’s, there’s a statue of her on top of it and she’s looking towards San Antonio with her hand shielding the sun from her eyes, awaiting Davey’s return. And it’s, the park is, the State Park is about six feet wide and ten feet long, just for her grave. But anyway, and it’s, went through, of course after Crockett had it, he had it was the publisher two or three times and it was always a weekly and then Roberts, James Roberts bought it in about 1970 and he had, he brought in, it was Beryl McClellan, then Larry Crabtree and then Grant Mayberry and then me in ’79. Some of those guys left. McClellan had health problems. Crabtree went to Vernon Daily News as the publisher and so it wasn’t all that, there was lots of turnover but it wasn’t, everybody was on good terms. Then the lake, the main thing, the lake came, the Brazos River was dredged out and dammed in 1970 and that led to all our growth. The town in only, I think the signs say 68 hundred. It’s a small square mile county, but there’s like 55 thousand people that live in the county. There were 17 thousand when I moved there in 1979. But nearly everybody lives on or very close to the lake so the population’s outside the city limits. It’s a, it’s a growing town, well it was until the Great Recession. It’s had rapid growth, we have like all towns that are built around a body of water, traffic is horrible and what, we’ll add extra lanes and everything it’ll never get, the traffic will never get unraveled. There’s not enough money or enough time. But it’s great. There’s, close enough to the Metroplex, to Fort Worth it’s 35 miles away. If you want to do something there you can do it but you’re isolated enough that there’s people that live in Granbury are not part of Fort Worth. They’re part of Hood County. So we’re our own community.
Cash: What have been the issues that the community has faced and the newspaper has covered or championed over the years?
Tidwell: Let’s see. The nuclear plant is built just across the county line. It’s in Somervell County.
WG: Is that Comanche Peak?
Tidwell: Yes, Comanche Peak. And it’s, when, under construction it will employ like two thousand construction workers and then it’ll settle, slowly go back down. It employs about 500 now. And it’s just a boon to the community and it’s, it’s safe, they’ve never had any problems and we’ve, we support that from day one. They’re going to build, or they’re hoping to build two more units. It’s great for the community. We want it. And we’ll support it. Not just because of our support, but I think it will happen. Of course we, we… About 95 percent of the bond elections we support. There was one, there was one school election that the superintendant put together a committee to do his bidding and part of the committee turned on him. He wanted them to do, build what he decided needed to be built and the committee turned on him and I think it was 72 percent against the election and we encouraged people to vote no. It was ill conceived. But…
Cash: Is that superintendant still around?
Tidwell: No. (Laughter) But he was for a long time, though. Now then they’re proposing to build a new elementary and I’m sure it will pass. I mean they just have to show the need.
Cash: What about controversial issues in the community?
Tidwell: Oh, we, we don’t dodge them. We’re always in the middle of them. We have a non-profit agency, Mission Granbury and we kept receiving complaints from their clients about how rudely and badly they were treated, how…This is in Granbury, this is a big non-profit, and how they would be promised things like they would say okay, here’s you a chit to get diapers for your baby and then they would go to the store to get them and turn in the chit and they’d say, “naw.” Then they would call Mission Granbury and they’d say “naw,” we decided we aren’t gonna give them diapers. Or the same with electric bills and so we, we researched it. This took about three months to research and talk to lots and lots of people and we ran, it was about three pages in one issue, and of course Mission Granbury didn’t like it. Of course Mission Granbury refused to comment along and the sad thing is I don’t know that they’ve changed their ways. I don’t, I don’t see it, but their funding has plummeted. I think they will have to be open and, and treat people lots better or they won’t be in business. But—
Cash: What was the community reaction? Did you have letters to the editor?
Tidwell: Oh, yeah. It was totally split. If you were, if you were for Mission Granbury before this, if you thought they were wonderful, you still were and we were horrible. If you didn’t like them, I mean if you’d had problems, then we were just great. I mean it’s kinda the reaction you’d expect. I mean it was a firestorm, but you… If we, I always try to look, step back and go, would we do that again? And I think, yes, people need to know that. And I didn’t like it. I worry about those things, but a lot of things we print I wish that we, you know, the robberies, the assaults, the…You don’t want to print them but it’s your job and the community needs to know. We once had a bank president’s wife that owned a title company and she was kiting checks among bank accounts, from one back to another to another, and finally they caught, it caught up to her. The District Attorney promised her that we would write nothing about it and of course we ran it as the lead story in the paper. And for quite some time it severely damaged our relationship with the bank, but there again the question if you don’t cover the news without favor you aren’t doing your job.
Cash: So does that become an ethical dilemma for you, a financial dilemma?
Tidwell: Oh, you think about it financially for a second and you go well, we can do, we can do fine without their…They were advertising a few hundred dollars a month and now then they are again, have for some time. And, but you just have to do what’s right.
Cash: Living in a small community like that, you know everybody.
Tidwell: Oh, yes.
Cash: You see them at church and in line at the grocery store—
Cash: And so is that awkward sometimes when—
Tidwell: Oh, yeah.
Cash: —you’ve written an unfavorable story? Tell us about that.
Tidwell: Oh, absolutely. I have a lady in our church that I truly admire is on the Mission Granbury Board and we were pretty good friends. She can’t stand me now. Before the Mission Granbury story. But that’s part of it. And we’re going to, today we’ll be somebody’s best friend and tomorrow they’ll really be mad at us but it will, it changes. I mean it goes both ways. And but that’s part of the fun. We don’t, we don’t want to make people mad, but we insist on reporting the news. And we try to be… If… There was a, there’s a CPA in town and she bought out a CPA firm in Stephenville and I just really don’t care for this lady that’s in our town. But recently the CPA she bought it from that live in Stephenville, were charged with stealing millions of dollars from trust funds and we decided to needed to do a story but my only, my only thing was don’t put this lady that I don’t like, she’s not part of the story. Let’s, she had nothing to do with this and the story was well received and she actually thanked us for not including her. But you know, you just try to be fair.
Cash: Sometimes there’s the perception that community newspaper publishers let controversial or unpleasant issues slide. But from what you’ve said that doesn’t seem to be the case in Hood County. Have you had folks come to you and ask you to hold a story or suppress news?
Tidwell: Oh on occasion. But usually when we, when they do that, they don’t realize, we might, sometimes we haven’t heard about the story at that time so then we go find the story and nearly every time we run it. But we, if it’s newsworthy we run it. If some public figure in their personal life has done something that I would consider immoral but it has not affected anybody but him, or them. Then we don’t, we don’t run that. If he’s, if it’s a DWI, if a school board member gets a DWI, of course we run that. And if, when, but when they’re having affairs that’s not our business unless it somehow affects the governmental body that they’re with and hasn’t yet.
Cash: Tell us some about your leadership in the newspaper industry.
Tidwell: Oh, I’ve been president of Texas Press. That was about 12 years ago and then three years ago I was president of International Newspaper Association. Texas Press was fun but it was with Lyndell Williams who’s going into the Hall of Fame tonight. He was executive director. I just admire Lyndell so much and when, even when I was a young publisher in Littlefield I would call Lyndell and ask him a question or ask for help and he would make it sound like that I was the most important person in the world. That he had his feet sitting on his desk just waiting for the opportunity to help me. And I always appreciated that but I knew that he just had the knack for making you feel that way. But it was Lyn— I think after Lyndell retired the year after I was president, But just a remarkable guy. But it’s, it was fun. It was a lot of work. We, during my presidency I think my term was reinvesting in the membership. We had just tons of money that we just seemed like we continued to accumulate and I wanted to turn it around and do training or whatever it took to get— Not throw the money away and not deplete it so it wouldn’t go on for a long time, but we needed to get that money somehow reinvested in the membership. And it didn’t happen immediately but over the years it’s happened and continues to happen. National Newspaper Association was great. Of course one of their never-ending issues is postal service. And the mail delivery of newspapers will be the death of us all.
Cash: Explain that a little bit. Some folks might not understand how community newspapers depend on the US Postal Service.
Tidwell: It’s the mail delivery is the cheapest. . . .
Tidwell: We were talking about the mail delivery and most newspapers rely heavily on the Postal Service to deliver their mail because it’s the most efficient, most economical way to do it. If I hire carriers it costs more and it’s not nearly as efficient as the Post Office. We all complain about the Post Office. It’s one of the greatest delivery systems in the world. But it’s a never-ending battle with the Post Office over rates, service. Now then they seem to be intent on stopping Saturday delivery of the mail which that will affect our newspaper and lots of other newspapers. So we either have to change our publication dates or we have to go to a carrier system. I don’t like either one, but I guess we’ll chance publication dates. But it’s…With the National Newspaper Association, that’s the one thing that we’ve always done is to fight the Post Office and, or…And sometimes we actually work together. It’s a fierce battle but yet everybody’s friendly on both sides which is as it should be. But we do, we push things. We do our part like lowering the estate tax and talk to our senators and representatives and just whatever the issue of the day is that’s what the National Newspaper does, but primarily it’s postal. But through that we made lots of fabulous trips and have met lots of great people, have, and they are still our friends and it’s like Texas Press, it’s a reunion when we see them. And I’m pleased to, it’s one of these things I’m pleased to have done it. I’m very honored and I wouldn’t do it again for anything.
Cash: So looking back on this career that’s certainly not over yet. If you could point to proudest moments, greatest accomplishments, what comes to mind?
Tidwell: Oh, my proudest moments are putting out good newspapers and most, I’m somewhat pleased with, but every few issues you’ll have one that has great news and advertising and you go yes this is why we’re in the business. This, if we could do this every issue it would be perfect. But of course there’s ups and there’s downs. But that’s what I like best. I mean that’s what I’m proudest of and the people I get to work with. We have… I’ve been there 30 years and two people, there’s… When I went to the Hood County News, there was like eight people and two of them are still there and are great friends. One’s the editor and one’s the business manager. But we’ve got lots of people that now have been there over 20 years. And it’s I just love going to work and we work extremely hard, but we try to play just as hard. We’re there together for eight or 10 hours a day and we’d better be laughing and we’d better be having fun. But at some point and they all know when that is, you gotta buckle down and get to work and get it done. And it’s, I just, I love these people and admire them and consider myself real fortunate for being associated with them. But my, on staff members, my philosophy is you try to carefully hire them. . . . . .
Tidwell: But as I was saying, we don’t know where technology’s going. Perhaps newspapers will all be on Kindles one day but in some form newspapers will be here and I just think it’s a bright future. On some strange things have happened in my newspaper career. We had, shortly after I got to Granbury, I got this letter to the editor and it was a suicide letter to the editor and it said, you know, I’m going to kill myself and send the bill, even though it was a letter to the editor, send the bill to this guy and I’m going…we don’t charge for them, but if we, how’s he gonna pay for it if he’s dead anyway. But so I called the sheriff immediately and I was telling…I was pretty upset about this and he said is that Billy Wayne? And I said yes. He said, “I’ll go by his place in three or four days and see if he’s still alive. We’ve had him in jail before and he wanted to hang himself and the jailer got so tired of it that he went and bought him a new rope and threw it in his cell.” (Laughter) I just thought it was great.
And then our, oh, we built our new building, well our new building now it’s 22 years old, but we were on the square in a 1880s building and it was two storeys tall. It was like 24 feet wide and two storeys tall. Whatever and whoever you needed were always on the other floor. But when there was three or less people in the building there would, you would hear keys rattling in the front door and then you’d hear silence and that was as they were walking to the bottom of the stairs. There were 13 steps to the second floor and you would hear them on the, walking up the steps, but they wouldn’t just take 13, they would take hundreds and hundreds of steps. And when, you didn’t feel threatened but when you decided to go turn off the ghost, you would have to go stand at the top of the stairs and look down and it would stop. And then in a few minutes you’d hear the keys in the front door and then shortly they’d be on the steps and you’d go to the top of the stairs and turn them off. But it was kind of neat. Everybody in the building had heard it when there was less, three or less people in the building.
Cash: Did you ever figure out who the ghosts were?
Tidwell: No. It was… Granbury was a wild town and had lots of saloons on the square and the upstairs of the newspaper building had not been used for hardly anything and our thought was that it was probably where drunks went to sleep it off or something. But we don’t, we don’t know what it was. But there, in Granbury there are lots of ghost stories around.
Oh, and we… Apparently we took our ghost to the new building, and this was back when we had dark rooms, and we had this revolving dark room door so light wouldn’t get in. And it was heavy and if you were down there by yourself, just one person, sometimes you’d hear that dark room door spinning and it was, it’s not hard to push, but you had to put some weight behind it to push it. It can’t spin by itself, but it would. But now that was kinda spooky. But you didn’t feel threatened. But that… and then our ghost has gone away, we don’t see him or hear from him any more. I guess that’s about it.
I thank God every day for James Roberts because he gave me a chance, he expected me to work hard and that’s, I think…I’m not a super star at anything. I just… I show up for work and do my best and work hard at it but that’s it. And I think when you do it every day for 40 years then it adds up.