Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Hey, Not So Fast Writing off Those Family-Owned Weeklies!

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Hey, Not So Fast Writing off Those Family-Owned Weeklies!

Article excerpt

EVERYONE HAS A right to express an opinion.

But, oh my, I jumped to attention while reading in a recent Shop Talk at Thirty (May 27, 1995) this statement: "Certainly, the day of the independent family-owned newspaper is over."

I take strong exception to that all-encompassing observation. Family weeklies are not dead.

The true community journalist -- a term Jack McCloskey of the Mineral County Independent-News in Hawthorne, Nev., abhors -- lives to produce issues which overflow with local news, pictures, editorials and, hopefully, advertising.

You can also include those tidbit columns, often quaintly written, from "correspondents" living in tiny hamlets throughout a weekly's circulation area. Outsiders call them hokey. Local folks prize them as news.

Editors of family-owned weeklies produce products to inform their readers, not to please some faraway corporate headquarters.

To them, the current skyrocketing price of newsprint is a deep thorn in their sides. But they've suffered much worse, figuring how to wiggle through hundreds of setbacks, like advertising boycotts, crooked local politicians, firebombs tossed through their front doors. These newspaper people are pioneers and inventive survivors, not quitters.

Out there in Pataskala, Ohio; Owingsville, Ky.; Villisca, Iowa; Chisholm, Minn.; Ferriday, La.; Clinton, Tenn.; and other small towns around America, they battle the odds, week after week.

One case in point: Charlotte Schexnayder, editor of the Dumas Clarion in Ark., circulation 4,000, population 7,000.

In 1995, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled segregation of public school unconstitutional. For years, Gov. Orville Faubus fought a rear-guard action against integration. Most Arkansans backed him. Not Charlotte, one of the few editors in the state to support the high court ruling.

In Dumas, the board of education voted to build a new high school to serve whites and blacks together. But first, people in the Dumas district had to approve a $1-million bond issue.

Charlotte's readers immediately divided along racial lines. In news stories, week after week, she presented all the facts, accurately and without favor. She also editorialized for a yes vote. That cost the Clarion considerable ad revenue. But the snide comments about Charlotte and her paper hurt worse.

The bond issue passed -- by three votes.

Without Charlotte's objective reporting and supportive editorials, the one bond issue never would have had a chance.

Now, 40 years later, Charlotte still battles in support of what she feels is best for her community.

During the past 10 years, my wife and I crisscrossed America, interviewing weekly editors like Charlotte, then writing profiles about these dedicated newspaper men and women.

We found community newspapers thriving in Pawnee, Okla.; Thompson Falls, Mont.; Moab, Utah and Randolph, Vt.

After reading that the "day of the independently-owned newspaper is over," I decided to make some phone calls. I wanted to get up-to-the-minute status reports from a sampling of the 82 weeklies we visited in 48 states. Here's what I found.

Indiana

The Carroll County Comet, circulation 5,639, based in Flora, population 1,877 -- still going strong. In 1985, our interview was with Al Moss, third-generation editor and publisher. Eighteen months ago, Al handed over management to his daughter Mrs. Susan Moss Scholl, 39, and son Joe, 37.

They spent most of their lives training for this responsibility. As co-publishers, Susan is editor, Joe handles advertising. Sue said, "We have our niche as the county's only paper, and we have our independence." That's the key word with family-owned weeklies -- independence.

My favorite rememberance from 1985 in Flora:

Al told of working one summer vacation while a student at Wabash College. He asked his dad:

"Why don't you ever send out subscription reminders? …

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