MICHAEL KING ON COCKBURN Pg. 19 A JOURNAL OF FREE VOICES JUNE 3, 1988 $1.50 Selling the Paper SLIP A FEW BEERS into many a metropolitan reporter , and he’ll tell you he wants nothing more from life than his own small-town weekly newspaper. No more editors, no more rush to meet the daily deadline, no more stuffy assignments. That conversation’s good for another round It was my dream, too. So in the summer of 1983 my wife, Julie Ardery, and I bought the Bastrop County Times a 3,000circulation fact of life in Smithville, Texas, since 1892. During the next four years we published one of the better small weeklies in the state. We conducted an investigative series that changed a major state agency; we printed a short story, long reviews, and editorials; we sponsored an ugly dog ‘contest; we won awards for our news writing and features and for community service. We had fun and we made money. But in August 1987 we sold the paper to our competitor in a town 12 miles away, and it was not exhaustion that convinced us to sell; we’d expected the long hours. What we didn’t count on was a new rural economy that takes the business of newspapering out of the small-time independent publisher’s control. Before we get into the business end of things, this introduction to rural newspaper publishing should carry a warning: weekly newspapering can be hazardous to your health. The terrors of small-business ownership are compounded by the pressures of news reporting. And everything is so, well, Julie Ardery and Bill Bishop in Smithville close up. A lost ad account isn’t just a problem for somebody on the third floor. It means you have to skip paying yourself to cover the next printing bill. And imagine finishing your editorial excoriating Ed Meese only to meet him a half hour later, coming down a grocery aisle between the Little Debbie snack cakes and the Folgers coffee. There ain’t no place to hide. And even if there were, there wouldn’t WILL VAN OVERBEEK be time. In 1976 I worked at the Mountain Eagle, an award-winning weekly in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. The paper was, and is, Tom and Pat Gish, a brilliant pair of journalists who passed the burnout stage of weekly newspapering sometime in the mid-1960s. Though he had done the heart bypass routine several years before I arrived in Whitesburg, Tom still spent every Continued on Page 6 Hard Times for an Independent Weekly in the New Rural Economy BY BILL BISHOP
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