It’s been a staple in the community for 128 years, and as The Cheraw Chronicle closes its doors today, Chesterfield County residents are reflecting on the newspaper and the impact it’s had on local life.
Shannon Justice, who is now public relations coordinator for Northeastern Technical College, is one who has fond memories of the paper.
A former employee of the Chronicle — twice, she shared some of her feelings.
“I worked for the Chronicle on two separate occasions,” Justice said. “The first time was from 1998 to 2002. I was hired as an ad designer; designing ads, typing news copy and assisting with page pagination. I won a number of design awards through the S.C. Press Association during my four years there, and the ‘spec’ ads that I designed for ad representatives to take to customers were, many times, what helped them close the sale. In 1999, I requested a change of position with the company and began working (still designing my own ads) as an advertising representative.”
Justice said she enjoyed working in advertising sales and developed some close professional relationships with customers.
Her award-winning work caught the eye of Chesterfield General Hospital’s CEO, and she was hired as the director of marketing and public relations there in 2002.
Justice returned to the Chronicle as general manager in 2010 and remained in that position until 2012.
“During this time, I was a “Jill of all trades” — I wrote, I designed and sold advertising, I helped manage the day to day operations of the newspaper,” she said.
“When I worked for the Chronicle from 1998-2002, the newspaper was the only game in town,” Justice said. “There was a shopper, but their focus was on advertising, not news. We had a robust circulation and a very loyal readership. This was before newspapers were online, and people would line up on Wednesday afternoon to get the newspaper when it came back from the press plant even though the newspaper was a Thursday paper.”
She described the office as a lively place to work with the “typical” division between editorial (serious people) and advertising (goofy outgoing types) in the office.
“We were a pretty tight crew,” Justice said.
One of the biggest issues during her time at the Chronicle was its purchase of The Chesterfield Advertiser. The two newspapers were eventually consolidated into a single publication, prompting a struggle for the paper’s identity.
“The people wanted their news to be represented better and the people of Cheraw wanted the newspaper to be Cheraw’s newspaper,” Justice said.
As staffers left the Chronicle and their positions were eliminated through attrition, Justice left in 2012 to start her own advertising and PR consultation company.
Some of her greatest memories are reading through the old archives and the resurrection of the Chesterfield Advertiser. She also remembers the staff of the paper riding in the back of the delivery van to go to lunch.
“Since there were no seats, we would often wind up sprawled on the floor whenever the van would turn,” Justice said.
She also remembers Roger “Dodger” Owens who was the chief of the rescue squad and also worked at the newspaper from 1998-2002. If you went anywhere with him, there was always the chance that your trip would be interrupted for an emergency call. He knew everything that was happening in town and was a colorful character, always keeping Chronicle staffers on their toes.
A not-so-happy memory is the Amtrak wreck. The train struck and killed two town of Cheraw employees on the morning the newspaper was going to press, almost directly behind the Chronicle office.
Another sad memory is what she called “The Chesterfield 22.”
“I still get chills remembering the phone call from a sobbing and distraught rescue worker, tipping us on the story that 22 dogs had been taken to the local landfill and shot in the head by sheriff’s deputies,” Justice said. “The Chronicle was the first media source to do an in-depth story about the incident.”
Although she has many memories, Justice will certainly miss the paper. She will miss what it represents. She compared it to the tearing down of an old historic building.
“After being been a part of this community for 128 years, The Chronicle is part of that history, and also holds the history of people who live here within its pages,” she said.
Cheraw Town Councilwoman Jacqueline A. Ellerbe-Shannon also shared her thoughts on the paper.
“My fondest memory is growing up and Ms. Bernice Roberson was a contributor and writing about our community,” she said. “That was the only way things that we did got into the paper. Later on in life, the paper covered many other events. We got more rights as a people. It became more positive.
“It gave our community a sense of pride for those who left to get to see what we were doing in our hometown as well.”
Ellerbe-Shannon said she will miss being able to have things going on in the community being shared and printed.
“I’m sure other organizations would feel the same way,” she said.
She said it was in the later years, the 1980s and ’90s, that African-Americans starting getting better coverage.
She attributes some of that to the former editor, Kimberly Harrington, who is now editor of the Progressive Journal in Pageland.
“I saw more African-American coverage in our community,” Ellerbe-Shannon said. “Equal coverage. This week will be sad week losing the Chronicle.”
Town Manager Mike Smith said the Chronicle’s closure will be a loss to the town and to him personally.
“I can remember moving here in 1982 and recall reading the Chronicle when Tom MacCallum was editor and looked forward to reading it each week,” Smith said. “As the years have passed, I always enjoyed looking at the ‘Remember When’ photographs. I will miss having that opportunity.”
Reach Maria D. Grandy at 843-537-5261.