Joe Murphy

Aug. 30, 1942 – Feb. 23, 2022


MAJURO, Marshall Islands — Micronitor News and Printing Co. founder Joe Murphy established an independent newspaper that today is the longest running weekly in the Micronesia region.

Murphy’s sharp intellect, fierce independence, vision for creating a community newspaper, bilingual language ability, and resilience in the face of adversity saw him navigate hurdles to successfully establish a printing company and newspaper in the challenging business environment of early 1970s Majuro.

Murphy, who died at 79 in the United States, first arrived in Majuro in the mid-1960s at age 25 and was dispatched by the Peace Corps to Ujelang, the atoll of the nuclear exiles from Enewetak that was a textbook definition of the term “in the back of beyond.” A ship maybe once a year, no radio, TV, telephones or mail. Murphy thrived as an elementary teacher, survived food shortages and hordes of rats, endearing him to a generation of Ujelang people as an honorary member of the exiled community.

His experiences in pre-1970s Marshall Islands fueled his desire to return. After his Peace Corps tour, travelling, and a brief stay in the U.S., Murphy returned to Majuro. 

“He was determined to start a newspaper written in both the English and Marshallese languages,” recalls fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Mike Malone, the co-founder with Joe of what was initially known as “Micronitor.” In late 1969, they began constructing a small newspaper building in the Uliga section of Majuro, mixing concrete and laying the foundation block-by-block with the help of a few friends.

Writing on the 30th anniversary of the Journal, Murphy said, “The 30th anniversary of this publication is an event most of us who remember the humble beginnings of the Journal are surprised to see. February 13, 1970 was a Friday, an unlucky day to begin an enterprise by most reckonings, and the two guys who were spearheading the operation were Irish-extract alcohol aficionados with very little or no newspaper experience. They also, between the two of them, had practically no money.”

It wasn’t long before the Journal earned a reputation far beyond the shores of Majuro. Murphy encouraged local writers and spiced the newspaper with pithy comment.

Bit by bit, he built two bars and restaurants where rank and file Marshallese and visitors alike were comfortable to gather. Murphy also built the Backpacker Hotel, a modest accommodation that turned into a popular outpost for fisheries observers awaiting their next assignment at sea, low-budget journalists, environmentalists and assorted consultants.

“To say Joe was a unique person is a large understatement,” said Health Secretary and former Peace Corps Volunteer Jack Niedenthal. “He was an icon and had a profound impact on our country because he fostered free speech and demanded that those in our government always be held publicly accountable for their actions.”

Rose Murphy, his eldest daughter, who manages the family businesses, said, “He fought for freedom of speech and fought against discrimination. Regardless of race, religion, and even status, he befriended people from all parts of the world and from all walks of life.”

In the mid-1990s, Joe created what became the justly famous motto of the Journal, the “world’s worst newspaper.” It was a reaction to the more politically correct mottos of other newspapers. Those three words were soon emblazoned on t-shirts and bumper stickers and led to wide international media exposure for the Journal. The Boston Globe conducted a survey of the world’s worst newspapers. The Globe reporter concluded that despite its claim, the Journal not only didn’t rank as the world’s worst newspaper it was “a first-class newspaper.”

“Democracy was able to establish a toehold, and then a firm grip, in the Western Pacific in part because of a handful of journalism pioneers who believed in the power of truth, particularly Joe Murphy on Majuro,” said veteran Pacific islands journalist Floyd K. Takeuchi. “He had the courage to challenge the powers that be, including those of the chiefly kind, to be better, and to do better.”

Joe Murphy is survived by his wife, Thelma, and by children Rose, Catherine “Katty,” John, Suzanne, Margaret “Peggy,” Molly, Fintan, Sam, Charles “Kainoa,” Colleen “Naki,” Patrick “Jojo”, Sean, Sylvia Zedkaia and Deardre Korean, and by 32 grandchildren. mbj