|City||Linden, Alabama, U.S.|
The Democrat-Reporter is a local weekly newspaper in Linden, Alabama, United States. It was established in 1911 from the merger of the Linden Reporter and the Marengo Democrat. The newspaper was published by the Sutton family for over a century, with Goodloe Sutton running it from 1985 to 2019. The newspaper won national acclaim in the 1990s for its investigation of a corrupt county sheriff, but was met with criticism in early 2019 over an editorial from Sutton calling for the return of the Ku Klux Klan.
Sutton resigned as publisher and editor on February 22, 2019, and appointed Elecia R. Dexter to the two roles while he retained ownership. Dexter resigned less than a month later, citing ongoing interference from Sutton, and a deal to sell the paper to an out-of-state couple fell through a month later. The newspaper was sold to Tommy Wells in July 2019, as Sutton announced his retirement.
The Linden Reporter was created in 1879 and the Marengo Democrat was founded in 1899. The two newspapers merged to form The Democrat-Reporter in 1911. Robert E. Sutton bought the newspaper in 1917 and was its managing editor and publisher until 1965. He sold The Democrat-Reporter to his son Goodloe in 1982. Goodloe Sutton also worked alongside his wife, Jean, until her death in 2003.
The newspaper won national acclaim in the 1990s for its investigation of county sheriff Roger Davis for political corruption, despite his widespread popularity and death threats to editor Goodloe Sutton and his family. Davis and two deputies from the office were sentenced for misuse of public funds and other crimes, including intimidation tactics used against the Suttons. The four-year investigative series was considered a favorite for a Pulitzer Prize nomination in 1998, though the newspaper was not a finalist. The Suttons were interviewed by The New York Times, the American Journalism Review, Readers Digest, and the Oprah Winfrey Show. Goodloe Sutton was also honored by Representative Earl F. Hilliard in a remark to Congress on May 6, 1998, for his bravery. Goodloe Sutton ran unsuccessfully for the state house in 1998, losing to incumbent Andrew Hayden despite an ethics controversy.
The Democrat-Reporter had a longstanding rivalry with the Demopolis Times, which is published in neighboring Demopolis. The Democrat-Reporter absorbed the Thomasville News (of Thomasville) in 2006, after a decade under the ownership of the Sutton family. The newspaper's circulation dropped from 7,000 to 3,000 by the mid-2010s, and printing was outsourced to a plant in Monroeville. The offices for The Democrat-Reporter were moved in 2015 to a new building farther away from the county courthouse. The newspaper is published weekly on Thursdays and generally contains eight pages, including local news, legal notices, and an editorial page.
KKK editorial and new ownership
On February 14, 2019, The Democrat-Reporter publisher Goodloe Sutton wrote an editorial titled "Klan needs to ride again", calling for the return of the Ku Klux Klan to "clean out Washington D.C." with lynchings. "We'll get the hemp ropes out, loop them over a tall limb and hang all of them", Sutton said. He also specified that he was only referring to hanging "socialist-communists", and compared the Klan to the NAACP.
The editorial led to calls on Sutton to resign by senators Doug Jones and Richard Shelby, while other local politicians stated that they were not surprised by the comments. The editorial was first discovered and shared by the student-run Auburn Plainsman.
Sutton had previously been criticized for running offensive headlines and editorials, including comments about the Obama family and Hillary Clinton, but they did not get as much attention. Subscriptions to the newspaper declined as Linden residents responded negatively to the editorial and its widespread attention. Sutton's alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, removed him from the School of Communication's Mass Communication Hall of Fame over the editorial, and he was also stripped of a distinguished community journalism award he had been presented in 2009 by Auburn University's Journalism Advisory Council. Sutton responded to the criticism by saying that he was not sorry that he wrote the editorial, and that he would do it again if he had the chance.
On February 22, Sutton announced that he would resign from his positions as publisher and editor, giving control of the newspaper to Elecia R. Dexter. Dexter, an African-American woman with a degree in speech communications from Eastern Illinois University, had been employed at The Democrat-Reporter as a front-desk employee for six weeks at the time of the editorial, but had no journalism experience. Sutton retained ownership of the newspaper. Dexter resigned the editorship on March 11, two weeks after taking the position, due to editorial changes made by Sutton without her permission. In an interview with The New York Times, Dexter said that Sutton had emailed a version of the February 28 issue of the newspaper that replaced an article about his retirement with a defense of the KKK editorial and attacks against the Montgomery Advertiser for publishing an interview with him. She stated that her resignation was made after further changes to the March 14 issue, but was delayed over concerns for Sutton's cognitive well-being.
The Associated Press reported in late March that Sutton had sold the newspaper to an unnamed buyer, who were later identified as out-of-state residents C.T. Harless and Sabrina McMahan in a front-page editorial on March 28. Online news outlet Alabama Political Reporter published an investigation into Harless, who was using a pseudonym, and linked him to a group aligned with the Ku Klux Klan from Tennessee. Linden mayor Charles Moore expressed skepticism over whether the newspaper had actually been sold, while Sutton stated that he would continue operating the newspaper because the new owners lacked experience. In July, the Associated Press reported that Sutton had retired and sold the newspaper to Tommy Wells, a sports publicist from Texas who had previously shown interest in acquiring the Democrat-Reporter. Wells and his wife published their first edition on July 5, 2019, with the announcement of Sutton's retirement.
- "The Democrat-Reporter is now installed in its new office". The Democrat-Reporter. February 9, 1911. p. 4. Retrieved February 18, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Newspaper pioneers to join Auburn HOF". The Birmingham News. October 15, 1995. p. A29.
- Benn, Alvin (August 3, 2015). "Voices: Small-town publisher tries to hold on". USA Today. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Bragg, Rick (June 1, 1998). "Small Alabama Newspaper Prevails In Crusade to Expose Corrupt Sheriff". The New York Times. p. A10. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Orndorff, Mary (September 17, 2003). "Jean Sutton, Linden journalist, dies". The Birmingham News. p. C5.
- Halvatgis, Jenna (May 3, 1998). "Tackling corruption: Alabama newspaperman exposes crooked sheriff and lawmen". Rocky Mountain News. Associated Press. p. A42.
- Shepard, Alicia C. (July 1998). "Taking Down The Sheriff". American Journalism Review. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Benn, Alvin (April 15, 1998). "Publisher still feels like prize winner". Montgomery Advertiser. p. C5. Retrieved February 18, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Alabama newspaper editor calls on KKK to lynch Democrats". BBC News. February 19, 2019. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- "Truth Seekers" (PDF). The International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors. Missouri Southern State College Department of Communications. February 2000. pp. 1–2. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Noori Farzan, Antonia; Brice-Saddler, Michael (February 19, 2019). "'Time for the Ku Klux Klan to night ride again': An Alabama newspaper editor wants to bring back lynching". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Cason, Mike (August 12, 1998). "Publisher to make run for state house". Montgomery Advertiser. p. C3. Retrieved February 18, 2019 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Democrats hold on in Legislature". The Huntsville Times. November 4, 1998. p. B3.
- Hoffman, Roy (May 3, 1998). "Pulitzer nomination feeds papers' old duel". The Birmingham News. p. A19.
- "Thomasville News ceases publication". Alabama Press Association. April 1, 2006. Archived from the original on October 9, 2006. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- "The Democrat-Reporter will move office to Main". The Democrat-Reporter. March 25, 2015. p. 1. Retrieved February 18, 2019 – via Small Town Papers.
- Fausset, Richard; Chokshi, Niraj (February 19, 2019). "An Alabama Editor Urges the K.K.K. to 'Ride Again,' and His Small Town Winces". The New York Times. p. A17. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Brown, Melissa (February 18, 2019). "Alabama newspaper editor calls for Klan return to 'clean out D.C.'". Montgomery Advertiser. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Criss, Doug; Burnside, Tina (February 20, 2019). "The editor of an Alabama newspaper is calling for the return of the Ku Klux Klan's infamous night rides". CNN. Retrieved February 21, 2019.
- Wilson, Cristopher (February 19, 2019). "Alabama editor who called for lynchings by Klan should quit, senators say". Yahoo News. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Cason, Mike (February 18, 2019). "Lawmakers not surprised at editorial calling for Klan's return". AL.com. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Smith, Jordan (February 18, 2019). "Alabama newspaper editor calls for KKK to lynch Democrats in DC". WWSB 7. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
- Gore, Leada (February 18, 2019). "Who is Goodloe Sutton? Alabama newspaper publisher stripped of journalism honors over KKK editorial". AL.com. Retrieved February 19, 2019.
- Gore, Leada (February 21, 2019). "Goodloe Sutton, writer of KKK editorial, not sorry, says he'd 'do it all over again'". AL.com. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
- Brown, Melissa; Lyman, Brian (February 22, 2019). "Goodloe Sutton, Alabama editor who called for lynchings, hands over the reins of newspaper". Montgomery Advertiser. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
- Reeves, Jay (February 26, 2019). "Eastern Illinois University grad replaces editor who endorsed KKK". Journal Gazette & Times-Courier. Mattoon, Illinois. Associated Press. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
- Sanchez, Ray; Reiss, Rebekah (March 16, 2019). "Weeks after taking over Alabama newspaper that called for Klan to 'ride again,' black editor steps down". CNN. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- Mervosh, Sarah (February 23, 2019). "Alabama Newspaper That Called for K.K.K. to 'Ride Again' Has a New Editor: A Black Woman". The New York Times. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Beahm, Anna (February 22, 2019). "Alabama newspaper that ran KKK editorial now led by African-American woman". AL.com. Retrieved February 22, 2019.
- Brice-Saddler, Michael (February 23, 2019). "A newspaper editor urged the Klan to 'ride again.' A black woman is taking his place". The Washington Post. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- Mervosh, Sarah (March 15, 2019). "Black Editor Who Took Over Alabama Newspaper That Called for K.K.K. to 'Ride Again' Steps Down". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2019.
- "Alabama editor who wrote pro-KKK column selling newspaper". AL.com. Associated Press. March 20, 2019. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Whaley, Will (March 28, 2019). "Democrat-Reporter announces new co-owners". Selma Times-Journal. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Brownlee, Chip (April 2, 2019). "Editor who wrote KKK editorial says he sold his paper. One of the new owners has Klan ties". Alabama Political Reporter. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Gore, Leada (April 2, 2019). "Strange story of Goodloe Sutton, KKK editorial writer, just got stranger". AL.com. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Reeves, Jay (April 5, 2019). "Pro-KKK editor Goodloe Sutton says his Alabama newspaper is sold, but to whom?". The Montgomery Advertiser. Associated Press. Retrieved July 4, 2019.
- Reeves, Jay (July 11, 2019). "Pro-KKK editor out at Alabama newspaper". The Washington Post. Associated Press. Retrieved July 14, 2019.
- Archive of The Democrat-Reporter at Small Town Papers