“We’ve mutually agreed upon this decision,” said Bitter Southerner publisher Eric NeSmith. “It’s best for Chuck and best for the publication. We wish him well.”
NeSmith and Reece each say that there was no incident that prompted Reece’s decision to depart.
In 2015 The Bitter Southerner came close to folding. It was rescued by a significant investment from the Community Newspapers Inc., a chain of newspapers including 25 small-town weeklies and bi-weeklies, co-owned by NeSmith’s father, Dink NeSmith. Eric and his brother Alan serve on the board of CNI.
Eric NeSmith said CNI continues to be a “minority shareholder” of The Bitter Southerner. He added that the publication is “leaps and bounds ahead of where it was five years ago.”
The Bitter Southerner tells advertisers that it averages 138,000 pageviews a month from 90,000 unique visitors.
The online journal was created with the intent of correcting a perceived slight against the region. In 2013 a national magazine had published a list of the “50 greatest bars” in the country without listing a single Southern watering hole. Reece began researching excellent Southern taverns to refute that oversight.
Then the goal broadened, and became an effort to explain the South to those who still didn’t get it. Reece and his co-founders — Kyle Tibbs Jones, Butler Raines and Dave Whitling — found that their readers were often Southerners who had moved away, or non-Southerners who had moved here from elsewhere.
The Bitter Southerner served notice early on that it was no defender of the South’s egregious errors of the past. “If you are a person who buys the states' rights argument … or you fly the rebel flag in your front yard … or you still think women look really nice in hoop skirts, we politely suggest you find other amusements on the web," wrote Reece in August 2013. "The Bitter Southerner is not for you.”
“But there is another South," he wrote, "the one that we know: a South that is full of people who do things that honor genuinely honorable traditions. Drinking. Cooking. Reading. Writing. Singing. Playing. Making things. It’s also full of people who face our region’s contradictions and are determined to throw our dishonorable traditions out the window. The Bitter Southerner is here for Southern people who do cool things, smart things, things that change the whole world, or just a few minds at a time.”
Reece had worked in the corporate world before starting the free online publication, and in the 1990s was then Gov. Zell Miller’s press secretary. The Bitter Southerner was obviously a labor of love, undertaken at the cost of a sharply reduced salary.
Supporters and contributors to the publication include Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers; novelists Charles McNair and Thomas Mullen; Lolis Eric Elie, one of the writers for the HBO series “Treme”; singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash; and Southern chef extraordinaire Hugh Acheson.
Reece, 59, said he will continue writing, but strictly for the Down South blog, and that he will take the opportunity to write in a more personal vein.
Down South manufactures and markets T-shirts, hand-towels, aprons and other items bearing humorous slogans of the new South, such as “Shalom, Y’all,” “Mama Tried” and “Gimme Some Sugar.”
“My wife Stacy has a wonderful business,” Reece said. “She creates wonderful things that bring a little grace and happiness and a little humor into people’s lives and her business is growing every year. I’ve decided to take the next year at least and concentrate on working with Stacy because here we are in this house working together, and that’s what I want to spend my time doing,”
The Reeces live in Clarkston, east of Atlanta, in a town known for welcoming refugees and for its diverse population. They operate Stacy’s merchandising company out of a barn on the couple’s property.
Among Down South’s customers is The Bitter Southerner itself. Bitter Southerner-branded T-shirts and other merchandise, produced by Down South, have become a significant source of revenue for the publication.
Said Reece, “One thing the pandemic did for us, as I think it has done for a lot of people, is it focused us on the importance of family, because at the end of the day, especially right now, family is all we’ve got.”