With a history that dates back to 1886, The Leader (formerly The Covington Leader) is Tipton County’s oldest business. For more than a century, The Leader has never missed putting out an edition.
The first edition of the newspaper was printed on Oct. 15, 1886 in a building on the east side of the square in downtown Covington on East Liberty Street. After two years of running the newspaper, the founder, L.D. Hamner, sold the newspaper to J.W. Simonton and Arthur P. Taylor. At that time, a staff of three people operated the newspaper.
Ten years later, in 1898, The Leader moved to another corner building on the square, this time at the corner of West Pleasant and South Main streets. The relocation was short-lived as The Leader moved again eight years later in 1906 to what is known as the Glover Building at 207 South Main Street. Helping contribute to the decision to move was modernization; at this time, The Leader purchased its first Linotype machine. Type could be set by an operator sitting at a keyboard in a continuous line on a lead bar.
The Leader continued to operate in the South Main location for the next 64 years; until the final five years of that time, it remained under the ownership and management of various Simonton family members. In 1917, J.W. Simonton passed away; his son, Alison Simonton filled his father’s shoes, taking on the job of managing editor.
Two years later, Alison would get the help of his brother, J.C. “Bill” Simonton who would join the staff and assist his brother in running the family business.
In 1924, a Cranston press was utilized in printing the newspaper. The Cranston could produce 1,000 copies of a four page newspaper or section in approximately one hour.
By 1944, Leader circulation reached 5,000, an all-time high at that time.
More technology would be utilized in 1945; a Duplex press was purchased which could print eight pages at a time at a rate of 4,500 copies per hour.
In 1950, William C. “Billy” Simonton, co-publisher of The Leader, died at his home of a heart attack at the age of 51. He would be inducted into the Tennessee Press Association Hall of Fame 58 years later in 2009. Following his death, his son, William C. “Bill” Simonton Jr. joined the staff of The Leader as news editor. Two years later, The Covington Leader was the state’s largest weekly newspaper based on circulation.
When Alison Simonton passed away in 1957, his nephew, “Bill” Simonton became managing editor.
By 1961, changes were again in store as “offset” printing was instituted. The Leader became the first weekly newspaper in Tennessee to be printed by this method. The new press was a two-unit, web-fed Fairchild Color King capable of printing eight pages at a rate of 11,000 copies per hour. By this time, type was set on modified electric typewriters which punched a tape that was fed through a reader to produce the finished product.
In 1965, the ownership of The Leader by the Simonton family came to an end. The Jones Group purchased the newspaper and five years later, in 1970, moved the newspaper to its current location at 2001 Hwy. 51 South, Covington, at the site formerly occupied by T.C. Bowling Lanes.
The old bowling alley was converted to accommodate an office area and a print shop that would go on to grow as two more Fairchild Color King printing units were added, meaning The Leader could print 16 pages at a pace of 15,000 newspapers per hour.
In 1975, Bill Simonton would leave the business and George T. Whitley, who had served as advertising and circulation manager, would be named publisher. Whitley would run the newspaper for the next 27 years until 2002 when The Jones Group sold The Leader to Albrecht Newspapers. Jay Albrecht was named publisher in 2003 when Whitley retired.
In 2004, Albrecht took the paper, which had a circulation greater than 6,000, to twice weekly, publishing editions for the next five years on Tuesdays and Fridays.
In the early part of this decade, the newspaper was "paginated" on computers, meaning computer software allowed the creation of a full-sized page completely on the computer without using the "cut and paste" method where strips of copy would be waxed and laid down on large, lined pages. While The Leader kept its commercial print shop which operates still, the web press operation was moved to the The Chester County Independent, another Albrecht newspaper, in Henderson, Tenn.
In 2006, Albrecht Newspapers sold The Leader to American Hometown Publishing, a Franklin, Tennessee-based company that publishes newspapers in three states. Jay Albrecht continued to serve as publisher for the next year.
The name was changed, dropping “Covington” from the nameplate to officially become The Leader in 2007. Jay Albrecht departed later that year.
Over the years, The Leader, like other newspapers, has gradually decreased the width of the newspaper, going from the wide 26-inch format (the distance from edge to edge of an open newspaper) to the now-industry standard 22-inch format in current use.
Brian Blackley has served as publisher since 2009. That year, The Leader converted back to its original weekly format resuming publication on Thursdays. Circulation, which had fallen to about 5,000 increased again to 6,000.