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Former Oxford Newspaper Publisher Tim Phillips Says Print Journalism Is "The Face Of The Community"

Photo by Bruce Newman.

The Oxford Eagle is a name known to many residents in the small Southern town of Oxford, Mississippi. Ole Miss alumnus Tim Phillips (’83) has worked at The Oxford Eagle for more than 33 years and is the newspaper’s publisher.
At the start of his adolescent years, Phillips began selling papers for the Eagle, and his passion for journalism escalated from there.
Growing up in Oxford, Phillips said that no other school or career path ever came into question when he thought about his future as a young adult.
After spending years of waking at 4 a.m. at least two days a week to work in the pressroom helping to print newspapers, Phillips enrolled at the University of Mississippi with the intention of getting a bachelor’s degree in journalism.
Throughout his years at Ole Miss, Phillips was an active member of the Kappa Alpha fraternity on campus, and he was managing editor of The Daily Mississippian his senior year.
Although his father was always his biggest mentor, Phillips also listed Dr. Jere Hoar and Will Norton Jr., dean of the Meek School of Journalism and New Media, among those who influenced him most throughout his time at Ole Miss.
Hoar, who taught journalism full-time at Ole Miss for 30 years, remembered having Phillips in his classroom.
“He was a participating student, he wanted to learn, he was interested,” Hoar said. He was an excellent member of the class.”
Hoar and Phillips remain friends today, and Hoar spoke very highly, not only of the work Phillips did as a student, but also of him as a person.
“He’s very loyal, and he is very close to his family,” Hoar said.
Norton recalled Phillips as a leader.
“He influenced other students,” Norton said. “He’s really a lot smarter than he wants you to know. He’s real charming, he can talk to anybody.” Today, Phillips and Norton maintain both a personal and business relationship. “I can not talk to Tim for months at a time, and yet we can continue the conversation just where we left it,” Norton said.
Upon completing his bachelor’s degree, Phillips went straight to full-time work with The Oxford Eagle, and his loyalty to the newspaper has not faltered in the three-plus decades since.
Before becoming publisher, Phillips worked in many areas, from delivering newspapers to working on the press.
“There isn’t much I haven’t done,” Phillips said.
Hoar also mentioned Phillips’ varied experience, and he expressed his support for Phillips as publisher.
“He knows how various departments work together and exactly what’s involved in many of the jobs because he’s occupied them,” Hoar said. “He was an excellent choice for publisher.”
Working for the same company for more than 30 years can create deep professional roots for anybody. However, for Phillips, his ties to the Eagle amount to more than just business.
“From 1983 to 2005, I had the pleasure of working with my dad and my brother,” Phillips said, as he reminisced about their presence around the small office. “There was no greater honor than spending time with them.”
The personal connection extended in particular to his brother Dan, who died in 2005. Tim Phillips donated a kidney to his brother, but complications ensued, and Dan did not recover.
“I can still hear Dan through the walls,” Phillips said as he looked around the office.
The Phillips family not only worked as employees for The Oxford Eagle, but also co-owned the business with the Vasilyev family from 1953 to 2014. In the spring of 2014, they sold the newspaper. However, Tim Phillips was asked to stay on as a consultant. A month later he was promoted to publisher.
“It’s rare to find someone with the depth of community newspaper experience Tim has,” said Kevin Cooper, vice president of Boone Newspapers, which manages the newspaper. “He’s truly touched every aspect of the business, including knowing how to physically run the printing press, which is a bit of a rarity among today’s publishers.
“Tim worked for years in the shadows of his father and brother, both of whom had legendary community journalism careers, making it easy for people to understand his talents,” he said.
Cooper said Phillips’ leadership in the transition of ownership at the newspaper has been invaluable. Phillips also helped lead the newspaper’s launch of a Sunday edition in 2014.
Phillips seems to truly enjoy his occupation.
“A day in the life of a publisher is never the same,” he said. “It’s kind of a juggling act. I can be unstopping the toilet, I can be selling papers on the street, I can be on a route, or I can be on the press.”
Phillips also notes how the town seems to be changing everyday.
“Oxford’s not the same Oxford I grew up in,” he said.
The serious growth that the school has seen also has been reflected in the Oxford community.
Phillips said that he had never considered leaving Oxford for school or a big-time job, but now things are not quite the same. Although Oxford is his home, he admits to wondering about what life would be like living with his wife and two kids outside of the city limits.
The school alone now hosts more than twice the number of students than when Phillips was an undergrad.
“When I was here, there was 11 (thousand),” Phillips said. “It’s a good growth,
but it also needs to be controlled where it does not get out of hand.”
Phillips is an active member of Vision 2037, an organization focused on keeping the small-town feeling in Oxford, despite the considerable growth.
Even after 33 years of success at The Oxford Eagle, Phillips still speaks passionately about his career.
“Please, please don’t believe the myth that print journalism is dead,” Phillips said. “The newspaper is the voice of the community; it is the face of the community.”


The author, Taylor Alyea, graduated in May 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She is from London, Ontario, Canada.


The Meek School Magazine is a collaborative effort of journalism and Integrated Marketing Communications students with the faculty of Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Every week, for the next few weeks, HottyToddy.com will feature an article from Meek Magazine, Issue 4 (2016-2017).


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