Note to reader: when I agreed to do this business profile column for the Tennessee Star Journal, I advised the owner that it was important to do a profile on him at some point. When I finally asked him for the interview, he leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and said, “Let’s talk about this for a minute. Since you work for me and I own the paper, this creates a conflict of interest.” In response I said, “You’re right. So, before we start I want you to guarantee that you will print whatever I write with no editorial changes.” “That sounds fair,” he said.” And so we began.
The Tennessee Star Journal’s offices are in a large building with lots of space and windows, but Gullion’s room is small, spare and windowless with no photos on the wall. It is obvious that he is a man who comes to his office to work. Several open newspapers were spread on a layout table behind his desk so he can continually swivel his chair from computer to the physical newspapers and back.
We were speaking late on Sunday evening when stories were coming in and the phone rang continuously while we talked. The paper is edited and laid out on Monday, so Gullion must also be a person who gets by on very little sleep. “I was a motocross racer from ages 13 to 22. I was a real adrenaline junkie.” He must have found something similar at the newspaper. I asked how long it had been since he had taken a day off. “Somewhere around 20 days,” he answered.
Mike came to Pigeon Forge from Boston a year ago to expand the family photography business with his two sisters, Julie and Brianna Mortimer, who relocated from Branson, Missouri. Before his move he had been involved with his ex’s career as a TV broadcast journalist.
“I have always been passionate about journalism,” he says. “And always a news junkie.” Given the occupation of his ex, he found himself attending seminars and workshops and fell in love with journalism and the business of journalism.
“When I came down here and helped open the photography studio,” he says, “It just so happened that the man we lease the commercial real estate from also owned a newspaper and was wanting to sell it. It was a dream come true.”
What will make the Tennessee Star Journal a viable newspaper? “Journalism,” was his one word answer. Speaking more broadly on the topic, “It’s the fourth estate. Democracy would be meaningless without it. A population can only democratically elect leaders if they have information on which to base their decisions. And they want to know that what they read is true. The one word I want to associate with the paper is integrity. To the best of my ability we are putting that first and foremost.”
Focusing on a local level, he mentioned, “There is a rich history and culture here in Sevier County, especially in the arts, whether music, pottery or craft making. People want to know about it. Readers want to know everything from tourism economics to events going on in the community.”
“There will be no fear mongering or sensationalism even if it would increase circulation. My editorial philosophy is to maximize journalistic freedom. I will allow any legitimate arguments. The main thing is to use words that keep them clear. For example, I would rather not use ‘Obamacare’ in place of the ‘Affordable Care Act.’ Perhaps with the exception of humor columnists, partisan language is political hackery. I want clear, sober, logical, rational reporting. Labels like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative,’ ‘communist’ or ‘fascist’ just obfuscate the issues. Journalism should be about uncovering truth. There are certainly different perceptions on what is true, but the goal of journalism isn’t necessarily laying out all the different perceptions, but instead finding truth.”
Since he took over the newspaper, Gullion has instituted several changes to show the community how much the paper has changed. There are a lot of new people on board, including a managing editor, copy editor, online coordinator, webmaster, columnists, journalists and sales people.
Special offers are being made to new and former advertisers to give the Tennessee Star Journal a new try and readers and advertisers seem to be doing that. The future looks promising if the newspaper man from Boston and his staff can keep generating ideas and enthusiasm from that little windowless office.