Winthrop grad named president, publisher of The State newspaper

cclick@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2014 

Sara Johnson Borton

Winthrop University alumna Sara Johnson Borton was named president and publisher of The State Wednesday, only the second woman to hold the top post at the McClatchy Co.-owned newspaper in Columbia.

Borton, 55, is now president and publisher of McClatchy’s two Lowcountry newspapers, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, and will continue in that role.

“The connections between the Lowcountry and The State newspaper go back to the late 1800s, when two progressive journalists born in the Lowcountry -- brothers NG. Gonzales and Ambrose E. Gonzales -- founded The State newspaper, “Borton said. “They crusaded for various reforms and their work brought about profound change for the good of South Carolina.

“I’ll continue to support energetic and fair news coverage -- the kind that has distinguished The State, The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette over the years,” she said. “At the same time, our newspapers will seek to be good corporate citizens in each of the communities we serve.

Borton, a native of Florida who has lived in South Carolina since she was a child, will continue to have her home on Hilton Head Island but will live part time in Columbia. McClatchy vice president for operations Mark Zieman, who oversees McClatchy’s newspapers in the Southeast, said Borton will bring passion to her new post as a leader in public service journalism and digital journalism.

Borton succeeds Henry B. Haitz III, who resigned as president and publisher of the State Media Co. in December to become president and publisher of Hearst’s Connecticut Newspapers.

Borton is the 12th person and second woman to be publisher of the 123-year-old State. Ann Caukins, president and publisher of the Charlotte Observer, also was publisher of The State.

Borton is a graduate of Wintrop University in Rock Hill and began working in that city as a reporter for the Rock Hill Times. She later worked for the Savannah News-Press and Hilton Head News. She is married to Brett Borton, a communications professor at USC-Beaufort. The couple have four children.

Borton, who will begin her duties Feb. 10, will take over a newspaper with a storied past and contemporary industry challenges. Like every other U.S. daily, The State saw its advertising revenues drop with the rise of the internet in the 1990s and early 2000s.

But The State, and other newspapers in the McClatchy chain, have banked on an expanded digital presence and exclusive content to inject new life into the industry. So far in 2014, the state’s web site, www.thestate.com, ranks second among the McClatchy newspapers in percentage growth over the previous year. The development of www.gogamecocks.com, a website devoted to coverage of USC sports, has been ranked a success among the company’s digital enterprises.

The State was founded Feb. 18, 1891, by the two Gonzales brothers, whose father was of Cuban descent and whose mother, Harriett Elliott, was rooted in S.C. plantation society.

As a journalist for the Charleston News and Courier, N.G. Gonzales was a keen and outspoken observer of post-war life in South Carolina, taking the side of the old-line Bourbons embodied by Confederate hero Wade Hampton over the Populist firebrand Gov. Benjamin Ryan Tillman, whom N.G. described as “the great bamboozler.”

The animus toward the Tillman regime would dominate the early years of the newspaper as the brothers crusaded against lynching and for progressive outlook on issues including child labor and women’s suffrage. In 1903, N.G. Gonzales was mortally wounded on Gervais Street by Lt. Gov. James Tillman, Ben Tillman’s nephew, who had long feuded with the editor.

The newspaper company, which by the mid-point of the 20th century included the afternoon Columbia Record, remained family owned until 1986 when it was purchased by Knight-Ridder. McClatchy acquired that company in 2006.

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