MONROE — Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin on Wednesday announced the purchase of Monroe Publishing LLC from Bliss Communications of Janesville.
Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin, a group of 10 weekly newspapers and two shoppers, acquired Monroe Publishing, which includes the daily newspaper The Monroe Times, and the shopper publications the Monroe Shopping News, the Freeport Shopping News and the Stateline Buyers Guide.
Sidney H. Bliss, president of Bliss Communications, and John Ingebritsen, publisher of Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin, jointly announced the sale to Monroe employees on Wednesday morning.
“The Monroe Times has been an important part of Bliss for over 28 years as has the Monroe and Freeport Shoppers for over 13 years. We have enjoyed our relationship with the city of Monroe and the surrounding communities in Green County and in Freeport and the terrific employees of these organizations,” he said. “However, this sale represented an opportunity for me to pass the ownership of these great publications to a media company committed to quality community-based journalism.”
Ingebritsen has been in the newspaper industry for 31 years and has been publisher with Morris for 15 years. His interest in community journalism in southern Wisconsin was the impetus for Morris beginning its acquisition of Monroe Publishing LLC.
“Monroe is like many of the communities in our newspaper group,” said Ingebritsen. “It is a county seat with a terrific hospital, a quality school system, with vibrant businesses in a rural setting that benefits from a healthy diversity in agriculture.”
Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin publishes newspapers in Darlington, Cuba City, Platteville, Lancaster, Fennimore, Muscoda, Boscobel, Gays Mills, Richland Center and Hillsboro.
Charles H. Morris, president of Morris Newspaper Corporation of Wisconsin and Morris Multimedia Inc., welcomed the new properties.
“We are pleased to welcome the Monroe and Freeport publications and employees to our locally-managed, growing Wisconsin group. We continue to have interest in markets like Monroe that maintain a strong local identity and in which a local newspaper and digital platforms remain vital community contributors. Though it remains a challenging time in the ever-changing media space, locally-focused, locally-run publications and digital products in markets like Monroe continue to have a bright future,” Morris said.
Monroe Publishing has approximately 30 employees. The publishing company will be headed by Publisher Matt Johnson, who has been a community journalist in Wisconsin for 28 years, spending the last 14 years with the River Valley Media Group in La Crosse, a Lee Enterprises property.
Johnson rose from managing editor of Vernon County Broadcaster in Viroqua to group editorial publisher of the RVMG’s eight weekly newspapers.
Johnson earned Lee Enterprises’ President’s Award for Excellence in News, the company’s highest award for journalism, in 2012. He has been honored by groups such as the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation, the Wisconsin Rural Leadership Program and the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council.
Johnson has lived in Monroe since November with his youngest son, Derek, who is a junior at Monroe High School. Johnson’s wife, Brenda, has continued to teach in the Viroqua School District and his stepson, Griffin, plans to graduate from Viroqua High School in 2018.
Johnson grew up in Janesville and is a 1986 graduate of Janesville Parker. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater in 1990 with a double major in journalism and political science.
He began his journalism career while still in college, working as a sports reporter at the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson from 1989-91. He later became a reporter at the Grant County Herald-Independent in Lancaster and was named editor of the Fennimore Times in 1992.
Johnson has a history of community involvement, twice serving as the president of the Fennimore Chamber of Commerce, in 1996 and 1998, and being named the Fennimore Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the year in 2001.
Johnson moved to Viroqua joining the staff of the Vernon County Broadcaster in 2002. He was a long-time volunteer for children’s programs serving on the board of directors of Viroqua Day Care and Learning Center, serving seven years as an adult leader and Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troop 75 in Viroqua, coaching middle school and freshman high school football, and serving as a Sunday School teacher for numerous years. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Rural Leadership program. Johnson was named an outstanding volunteer by the Viroqua Chamber of Commerce-Wisconsin Main Street program in 2007.
“By coming to Monroe and joining Morris, which has many employees who I worked with while I was in Fennimore, I’ve found a wonderful community in which to transplant the roots of my life one final time and serve my fellow man and my profession,” Johnson said. “Living here has reminded me of the hard-working people who made up my neighborhood in Janesville.
“Monroe, however, has its unique appeal,” Johnson continued. “It is an agricultural community with thriving businesses. I want to provide the community with customer-service-focused publications filled with local news and advertising that reflect Green County. These publications will help businesses grow and gain new levels of prosperity, while providing the community with in-depth local news that is accurate and enlightening.”
Johnson said Morris’ investment in Monroe is a long-term commitment to publishing both in print and in internet-based products.