Publisher for past 22 years
Joe May has modest plans for his retirement: travel to Branson, Florida and San Diego, a few honey-do jobs and more time with his family. But, his home will remain Mexico, the community he has adopted as his own in the more than three decades he has lived here.
While he finishes his professional life as publisher, he began as advertising director for long-time Ledger owner Robert M. White II.
"I worked for five different owners over 35 years and never left the building," May said. "That's fairly unique in the publishing business in today's environment. When I first came to Mexico, I appreciated the opportunity to work for Bob White."
Through the paper's sale to Thomson Newspapers, then to American Publishing, then to Liberty Publishing, which became GateHouse Media, May continued his allegiance to The Ledger.
"It has been a privilege and an honor to serve Mexico, Missouri and Ledgerland the past 35 years," he said. "I have a great staff and wish I could recognize each of them individually."
Three of May's employees actually have more seniority than he (Lyndell Farrah, Bonnie Gibson, Brenda Fike) and he considers this a point of honor.
"I have been here for three and a half decades, and I have finally made it into the top five in longevity," he said.
May said he and his wife Phyllis made the decision to remain in Mexico based on the support of the community.
"We realized Mexico was good to all of us, and decided to stay here and raise our children," he said. "Chuck and Victoria received excellent educations in the public schools, which allowed them to go on to graduate from the University of Missouri. Also, we developed a group of close friends, and for these reasons we chose to stay in Mexico."
Reflecting on his appointment as publisher, May said he was excited about the promotion 22 years ago. "After the newspaper was sold by the White family, I had the chance to become publisher of a newspaper in Yreka, California," he said. "But I chose to stay here, hoping my opportunity would come."
Through the years, May has seen the business undergo many changes, both nationally and in Mexico.
"In 1970 at the Columbia Tribune, we were setting type by hand. A good Linotype operator could set 8 to 9 lines a minute," he said. "Today, with the advances in technology, we receive wire news from satellites at hundreds of words a minute. We used to take photos, develop the film, print the photo, and send it to be screened before placing it on the page. Now, we can take a digital photo at 10:30 a.m. and have it on the page in eight minutes."
May is proud of the reputation and traditions of The Ledger.
"The paper has won many statewide awards over the years," he said. "We proudly display our awards on the walls of the office. The awards are tributes to the dedication of The Ledger staff. I'm particularly proud of our first place award for community service won several years ago. I also am proud of the Salute to Literacy program we sponsor which brought former First Lady Barbara Bush to Mexico years ago."
May also has seen the paper, and the town of Mexico, downsize over the years.
"The retail base in the area has declined," he said. "At the paper, we have made up for the advertising losses by doing commercial printing. We print eight different publications weekly, and publish the Boonville Daily News every day."
During the years, May has been active on the state and national level.
"One of the highlights of my career was being elected president of the Missouri Press Association in 2011," he said. "I was proud to represent Missouri newspapers in the state and in Washington, D.C."
May said he has no fears about the disappearance of small-town newspapers.
"There will always be a demand for community newspapers that tell the story of what happened in the area," he said. "You are not going to find television covering Mexico, Missouri on a daily basis. When people say they get their news from the Internet they need to remember that somewhere along the way a newspaper reporter has filed that story."
As for The Ledger, May is pleased with the appointment of Martin Keller as general manager.
"I am happy Gatehouse has selected Martin to succeed me," he said. "We have worked together for many years, and I believe he has the knowledge, expertise and most importantly the drive to take The Ledger to the next level. I have every confidence Martin will do an excellent job and continue The Ledger's tradition of being a newspaper 'dedicated to the people's right to know.'"
May acknowledges that retirement will be a large change in his life, but he is anxious to move to the next step.
"Publishing a newspaper isn't just a job, it's a way of life," he said. "Some days you make people happy and some days you upset them. That's the nature of the business, but I have enjoyed almost every minute."