Vicki Russell intended to move to a big city after she completed her undergraduate studies at MU’s School of Journalism. But during graduate school, she became more involved in the community and got to know many Columbia residents.
“So much for my big city plans,” she said.
Instead, in 1977, Russell got a job as publisher of The Fulton Sun, which was then owned by the Columbia Daily Tribune. The Tribune sold the Fulton paper in 1989 to focus more on its Columbia operations, and Russell became the associate publisher of the Tribune, which has been family-owned since Charles Monrow Strong founded it 1901.
The paper was sold to Ernest Mitchell in 1905. Mitchell died later that year, and Ed Watson bought the paper with the financial assistance of his sister Margaret Waters; her husband, H.J. Waters; and his father, B.A. Watson. The paper has been owned and operated by the Watson/Waters family since 1905.
Russell became associate publisher in 1989 and married Tribune publisher Hank Waters in 1994.
“It’s been interesting and exciting and fun to be a part of the company’s growth,” Russell said. The Tribune’s staff has increased from about 125 employees when she started working there to about 300 today.
The paper has resisted many buyout inquiries over the years, primarily because the family is committed to the business, Russell said.
“Happily, someone from each generation has stayed committed,” she said.
Three of Hank Waters’ five children are the fourth generation of the family to work at the newspaper. They serve, along with Russell, as the board of directors. Each also holds a management position.
Waters’ children gained career experience prior to joining the family business. Henry “Jack” Waters, the oldest, brought his accounting background to the general manager position. After teaching marketing at Rock Bridge High School for four years, middle child Mary Twenter is a vice president of the company and puts her experience to work leading the human resources department. Andy Waters, the youngest sibling who works at the paper, “exhibited strong news interest from the start,” Russell said. After working for The Associated Press, Andy joined the Tribune’s newsroom and is now the city editor, Russell said.
Five of Hank Waters’ nine grandchildren are younger than 12 years old, and their parents seem interested in getting them involved in the family business, Russell said. The four older grandchildren have gone into different fields.
“It is pretty standard to have a local daily paper that has been around for many years, but few of them are family- owned these days,” Russell said.
Another reason for the Tribune’s longevity is its structure as a family business, Russell said.
“We can make decisions without having to call New York or Atlanta or somewhere else to find out what the parent company says we should do,” Russell said. “Local control and community involvement allows us to react quickly to changes.
“A newspaper truly does live or die with its community.”