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Meanwhile in Oz: Building on local news tradition for future growth
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Your Monroe Times is going through a transition as it moves from ownership by Bliss Communications of Janesville to the Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin.

What is important to know for readers is the decisions about the news you read continue to be made by our local news staff.

What is important for you to know as a community member is that Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin not only bought the Monroe Times, but also the Monroe Shopping News, Freeport Shopping News and Stateline Buyers Guide. In addition, Morris purchased the building in Monroe, where these businesses are administered.

Morris has made a long-term investment in the community of Monroe and greater Green County.

There is good reason for this investment. We can see Monroe growing. We know the work ethic of the people here. This place is a destination. I'm so grateful I've arrived and I am able to work here.

I was approached by Morris last October and told about its plans to purchase Monroe Publishing LLC, which is the parent company of all the local publications. At the time I was the weekly group publisher for eight newspapers being operated by the River Valley Newspaper Group in La Crosse. I also was working as a journalist for those publications, including the La Crosse Tribune and Winona (Minnesota) Daily News.

I had been a long-time witness to how Morris entered the newspaper business in Wisconsin, because it purchased the Fennimore Times, which I had been editor of from 1992-2002. I had many friends working for newspapers associated with Morris.

Everything I knew about Morris was impressive, because Morris left control of the newspapers it purchased in the hands of the local editors and advertising managers, who had spent many years with the businesses.

In Monroe, Morris has inherited a management team that includes editor Mary Jane Grenzow, advertising manager Laura Hughes, business manager Kathy Pierce and our newly-promoted circulation and property manager, Tina Curran. Our team combined has more than 70 years of local newspaper experience in Green County and Stephenson County, Illinois. That represents a vast amount of local knowledge regarding our readers, our partner businesses, customers and the community.

Moving forward from the sale on Feb. 1 through the future, our focus will be to present strong local news, help grow local businesses and provide outstanding customer service. In order to do that, over time, there will be changes to our publications that we believe will ultimately best serve readers.

I grew up in Janesville and have friends and family, including my father, here. My dad is 72 and is a former employee of Monroe's Piggly Wiggly store, where he worked after his retirement from Chrysler in Belvidere, Illinois. For several years, my dad represented Piggly Wiggly in area parades with his black Ford Mustang convertible loaned to showcase a member of a royal court or representatives. The car remains in the family, being handed down to my son, Derek, a junior at Monroe High School.

Being raised next to Monroe, and having spent countless days pheasant hunting across Green County as a youth, have been helpful to me as I've become a member of the community. My wife, Brenda, and I are still juggling jobs in different places. She is a public school art teacher. We look forward to a time in the not-too-distant future when we're together here in Green County.

All four of our publications, especially our newspaper, the Monroe Times, belong to the community. Like any newspaper, it would not exist without readers. We want to make sure our readers are happy with the products we provide.

We'll be making significant investments in our Monroe facility. This will include upgrading technology by a few generations. It will be a large undertaking, but I believe our team should be working on the most modern and upgradable technology we can prudently afford.

Morris will offer more training to our employees. We want them to learn how to use the new technology we install. We want to share what technology can do for readers and our partner businesses. In this world, technology is a key that can unlock many doors.

I understand our Monroe Times readers expect to see print editions for many, many years. We are planning to fulfill that expectation and have continued our printing arrangement with Bliss Communications in Janesville.

Our journalists are working to provide the best local news possible, and our advertising sales team is helping provide ways for local businesses to grow their income. We will be working on another mission as well. We are going to provide top-notch customer service and become a more visible institution in this community.

Monroe Times founder Emery A. Odell launched the Monroe Evening Times in 1898. Odell believed in Monroe.

Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin, with sister newspapers in southwestern Wisconsin from Darlington to Hillsboro, also believes in Monroe and Green County.

Saying more will just be lip service.

Our mission is to improve our products. You will both see it and hear about it from your neighbors over time. We will continue to tell the truth. We will be innovative. We will be relevant.

- Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.