In columns this year, Bill Miller Sr. has shared his thoughts with readers of the Washington Missourian on Winston Churchill, Brian Williams, pride in America, the family unit in shambles and a local road construction project.
Twice a week, Miller, 85, in his role as editor and publisher, writes most of the editorials that appear in the Missourian. Formally, Miller’s career spans 62 years, beginning when he was discharged from the Army after the Korean War in 1953. But well before that, he wrote sports while in high school and college for the paper his father, James Miller, purchased in 1937.
James Miller bought the Washington Missourian after reporting for newspapers in Kansas and then purchasing a weekly paper in Iowa. With the help of his four sons who worked with him, Miller turned the Missourian into an award-winning twice-weekly publication. In 1991 he joined Joseph Pulitzer and eight others as members of the inaugural class of the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame.
Bill Miller joined his father with that honor in 2003; James Miller’s son Tom was inducted in 2012. Today the Missourian is also the name of the family-owned papers in St. Clair and Union. The Missourian Publishing Co. also publishes a Warren County weekly, a senior citizens magazine and runs a commercial print business.
Publisher Miller works with his son, Bill Miller Jr., who is general manager, and two daughters who are editors.
Miller started out as the sports editor. “The community was growing in the mid-1950s. We bought out a competitor and went to twice a week.’’
His father’s formula was simple, Miller said. “He was a pioneer in Missouri when it came to carrying local photos. We still do that, running over 100 pictures a week in both publications.’’
The Missourian runs school honor rolls and lunch menus, all sorts of local sports, weddings, engagements, births and deaths. “It’s why we will survive,’’ Miller said. “We’ve not changed a whole lot in what has worked all these years.’’
The emphasis is on local news, with Associated Press stories included mainly for state news. The March 5 edition carried a front page story about a new fire truck, an inside story about a loan program that helped a woman become a first-time homeowner, four pages of local sports, a Milestones page and several photos of elementary students receiving recognitions.
Another constant through the almost 80 years of family ownership is striving to maintain credibility in the community. “We have worked hard to keep the respect and trust of our readers,’’ Miller said.
That is not to say the paper backs away from controversial issues. In the Wednesday publications – the paper also comes out on Saturdays – the Missourian carries three editorial pages. Along with Miller’s column and five or six syndicated columnists, the Missourian frequently includes a dozen or more letters to the editor.
“We’ve had some nasty fights with local government,’’ Miller said. “There was a mayor we fought with for years. He used a city-owned grader to build a horse riding ring on his farm for personal use.’’
The Missourian’s editorial pages have paved the way for changes in the community. “We pushed for a city administrator to be hired,’’ Miller said. “Now it’s a model for other cities in Missouri to follow.’’
The paper does selective political endorsements in some races, Miller said. The Missourian used to be Democratic – James Miller knew Harry Truman well – but now is independent.
“We promote the community and also criticize it,’’ Miller said. “We led a grassroots fund raiser for a statue of George Washington, who the town is named after. Also for a proper gravesite for a local Medal of Honor winner.’’
Miller has a long involvement in the Missouri Press Association and the National Newspaper Association. He also serves or has served on a number of community boards and organizations, including as chairman of the hospital board.
In that capacity, he opposed a move by doctors regarding ownership of the hospital. “It was bitter. The doctors fought like hell,’’ he said. “Eight or nine years later, the hospital bought them out. That fight was over, so you look for another one,’’ he laughed.
As long as conflicts are explained to readers, Miller said, community involvement benefits both the community and paper. “I believe in public service,’’ he said. “People want to know you care about things.’’
Through his career from sports editor to editor and publisher, Miller covered every beat at the paper. “Train derailments, crashes, tornadoes … One of the advantages of a small paper is you have a wide variety of news events you get to cover. A large daily gives a reporter just a narrow patch to learn.’’
Large daily newspapers, especially those owned by chains, have done more damage than anything else to journalism, Miller said. “Editors are in and out. Nobody puts down roots because they’re aiming for the next big jump.
“The bottom line is all they care about. Hell, if I was interested in the bottom line I’d be in another line of business.’’