Founded in 1886, The Leader (formerly The Covington Leader) is Tipton County’s oldest business. For 130 years, The Leader has never missed putting out an edition.
The first edition of the newspaper was printed on Oct. 15, 1886, in a building on the east side of the square in downtown Covington on East Liberty Street. After two years of running the newspaper, the founder, L.D. Hamner, sold the newspaper to J.W. Simonton and Arthur P. Taylor. At that time, a staff of three people operated the newspaper. The Simonton family would have three generations of newspaper managers, being involved in ownership and management of the newspaper for almost 90 years when in 1975 the last family member left the business.
In 1898 The Leader moved to another corner building on the square, this time at the corner of West Pleasant and South Main streets. The relocation was short-lived as The Leader moved again eight years later in 1906 to what is known as the Glover Building at 207 South Main Street. Helping contribute to the decision to move was modernization; at this time, The Leader purchased its first Linotype machine. Type could be set by an operator sitting at a keyboard in a continuous line on a lead bar.
The Leader continued to operate in the South Main location for the next 64 years; until the final five years of that time, it remained under the ownership and management of various Simonton family members. In 1917, J.W. Simonton died and his son, Alison Simonton, took on the job of managing editor.
Two years later, Alison would get the help of his brother, J.C. “Bill” Simonton, who would join the staff and assist his brother in running the family business.
In 1924, a Cranston press was utilized in printing the newspaper. The Cranston could produce 1,000 copies of a four-page newspaper or section in about an hour.
By 1944, Leader circulation reached 5,000, an all-time high at the time.
More technology would be utilized in 1945; a Duplex press was purchased which could print eight pages at a time at a rate of 4,500 copies per hour.
In 1950, William C. “Billy” Simonton, co-publisher of The Leader, died at his home of a heart attack at the age of 51. He would be inducted into the Tennessee Press Association Hall of Fame 58 years later in 2009. After his death, his son, William C. “Bill” Simonton Jr., joined the staff of The Leader as news editor. Two years later, The Covington Leader was the state’s largest weekly newspaper based on circulation.
When Alison Simonton passed away in 1957, his nephew, “Bill” Simonton became managing editor.
By 1961, changes were again in store as offset printing was instituted. The Leader became the first weekly newspaper in Tennessee to be printed using this method. The new press was a two-unit, web-fed Fairchild Color King capable of printing eight pages at a rate of 11,000 copies per hour. By this time, type was set on modified electric typewriters that punched a tape fed through a reader to produce the finished product.
In 1965, the ownership of The Leader by the Simonton family ended. The Jones Group purchased the newspaper and in 1970 moved the newspaper to 2001 Hwy. 51 South, Covington, at the site formerly occupied by T.C. Bowling Lanes.
The old bowling alley was converted to accommodate an office area and a print shop that would go on to grow as two more Fairchild Color King printing units were added, meaning The Leader could print 16 pages at a pace of 15,000 newspapers per hour.
In 1975, Bill Simonton Jr. would leave the business and George T. Whitley, who had served as advertising and circulation manager, would be named publisher. Whitley would run the newspaper until 2002 when The Jones Group sold The Leader to Albrecht Newspapers. Jay Albrecht was named publisher in 2003 when Whitley retired.
In 2004, Albrecht took the paper, which had a circulation of 6,000, to twice weekly, publishing editions for the next five years on Tuesdays and Fridays.
In the early part of this decade, the newspaper was paginated on computers, meaning computer software allowed the creation of a full-size page completely on the computer without using the “cut and paste” method where strips of copy would be waxed and laid down on large, lined pages. While The Leader kept its commercial print shop, which still operates, the web press operation was moved to the The Chester County Independent, another Albrecht newspaper, in Henderson, Tenn.
In 2006, Albrecht Newspapers sold The Leader to American Hometown Publishing, which now publishes newspapers in Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma and Virginia. Jay Albrecht continued to serve as publisher for the next year.
The name was changed, dropping “Covington” from the nameplate, to officially become The Leader in 2007. Jay Albrecht departed later that year.
Over the years, The Leader, like other newspapers, has gradually decreased the width of the newspaper, going from the wide 26-inch format (the distance from edge to edge of an open newspaper) to the now-industry standard 22-inch format in current use.
Brian Blackley took the reins as publisher in early 2009 and has continued to serve in role since.
In July 2009, The Leader converted back to its original weekly format resuming publication on Thursdays.
In 2015, the newspaper sold its location on Hwy. 51 S. and moved back to downtown Covington, setting up shop at 111 and 113 S. Munford Street, where it continues to run the newspaper and print shop, Leader Printing.
In June 2017, Rochelle Stidham succeeded Brian Blackley as publisher, becoming the first woman to ever hold the position.
In April 2019, Magic Valley Publishing acquired The Leader as well as several other papers in West Tennessee. Matthew Richardson became the publisher in May 2019 and Scott Whaley became the publisher in May 2020.