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Businessman defies conventional wisdom, starts three newspapers

Tuesday, October 6, 2015   (0 Comments)
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CLINTON, Miss–The Clinton Courier isn’t known for breaking news.

But when a tornado ripped through the city in April 2014, the paper’s Facebook page was one of the first places residents turned to find out about closings, where to find shelters and where to go if people needed help.

Local businessman Clay Mansell started the Courier in 2010, answering an off-the-cuff challenge from then Mayor Rosemary Aultman.

Today, the paper has become a cornerstone of the community, and is one of three publications Mansell has opened to serve smaller towns in the metro area. His fourth paper, the Canton News, is slated to open later this fall. “We’ll try to get an issue out by the end of October, before the election,” he said.

Mansell, a Clinton resident, owned what he called 10 small “treat centers” prior to going into the paper business. After another local paper, The Clinton News, closed, he served alongside the mayor and other business leaders on a special committee tasked with bringing in a new newspaper.

“Nothing materialized. One guy, who was not local, wanted guaranteed money from the town,” he said. “I was sitting there, and said I could do (a newspaper), and Mayor Aultman said, ‘go to it.’ “

“She was very instrumental in helping us pull the trigger.”

He and business partner Dr. Ryan Tracy, a Clinton dentist, published their first issue in October 2010. The paper comes out twice a month, on the first and third Thursdays.

Residents can pick up copies on 75 racks across the city. Additionally, children enrolled in Clinton Public Schools in kindergarten through sixth grade are given copies to take home in their backpacks.

“Our papers don’t necessarily follow the normal business model, because we didn’t know what a normal paper did,” he said.

Despite not knowing the business, Mansell thought he was up for the challenge.

“Living in Clinton and being involved in the community, when the Clinton News closed, I saw how much it hurt us by not having a paper. I thought there was a need, so I took a leap of faith. I saw how well it worked here, and decided to look at launching papers in other places.”

The Pelahatchie News began in 2012, and the Wesson News came along in 2013. “When we went to Pelahatchie, Mayor Knox Ross said, ‘Now that the Pelahatchie News exists, we are real.’  We are real proud of that quote,” Mansell said.

Today, the Courier has a circulation of 9,000, and 5,374 Facebook friends. Many of those friends logged on to the Courier’s Facebook page following the devastation of the 2014 tornado.

“Because we’re in a small town, we knew the police and were able to get into the neighborhoods and get pictures. We wanted to document as much as we could,” he said. “We were able to put the information out before anybody.”

In addition to covering hyper-local news, the paper sponsors groups like the Attache Show Choir at Clinton High School. “We want to be as important as the chamber of commerce,” he said.

Aultman was mayor at the time The Clinton News office closed, and remembers the city’s efforts to recruit publishers to open a new publication.

“The (parent company) decided to move it to their downtown office, and that created a disconnect immediately,” she said. “We met with several publishers trying to find someone to restart it. During that time Clay and Dr. Ryan Tracy said they could do it.

“It works because they’re here in the community and work in the community. It’s been very successful,” she said.

Mansell spends much of his time at the Courier checking e-mails and working with advertisers. “What I enjoy most is spending time when them, learning their business and seeing what promotions we can offer,” he said.

When he’s not working with the paper, he’s out in the community. He’s vice president of the Clinton chamber, treasurer of Main Street Clinton and on the board for Brilla, a minor league soccer team, among other responsibilities.

Mansell still owns one treat shop, Brick Street Pops, a gourmet Popsicle shop he opened at the corner of Monroe Street and East Leake Street, in Olde Towne Clinton. “They didn’t want the whole corner to be office buildings,” he said.  

He and his wife Amanda have been married 13 years and have one daughter, AnnaBelle. They are members of Arise Church, also in Clinton.

When Mansell isn’t in the office, volunteering or spending time with his family and friends, he will likely be out at ribbon cuttings and other community events, making sure the Courier is there to report on it.  

“We want to build up the community,” he said. “Hyper-local news sells. People want to know what’s going on in their towns.”

October 4-10, 2015 is National Newspaper Week, observing the importance of local newspaper media in local communities and cities. The correspondent, Anthony Warren, is a Jackson, Miss., based journalist.

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