I remember when I was growing up and in kindergarten, we used to have show-and-tell. I always enjoyed that and to this day, to an extent, I still enjoy show-and-tell. In my case, in a sense, my columns are my grown-up show-and-tell. I get to share a small piece of my life with my friends, and when you are in this business, non-friends too.
So, about a week ago I spotted a news brief that said that the Dunwoody Crier was stopping publication. The Crier was a weekly newspaper similar to ours. It was older than our newspapers – 43 years old to be exact. The weekly paper had a circulation of 18,000 and was distributed free throughout Dunwoody and a bit over into Brookhaven. It was run by my peer Dick Williams who purchased the paper in 1996.
For years, The Crier did very well financially and provided consistent, in-touch, engaged and informed local news for the City of Dunwoody. It helped usher Dunwoody into city-hood – much as our Johns Creek Herald played a large role in the founding of that city. Over the years the Crier became more and more a part of the gnome of the city of Dunwoody, providing an important identity and cohesiveness to the city. There was great symbiosis. And now half of that relationship had ceased to exist.
The news was upsetting to us and we felt bad for Dick and his staff, especially Jim Hart who had led the business side of the paper for over 37 years and for Donna Stevens who managed the administrative side of the paper for 25 years.
The next day, my son got a call from Edwards Printing where our newspapers are printed in South Carolina, and, it turns out, also where the Crier was printed.
“Have you guys thought about reaching out to the Crier” was the message in the email. My printer didn’t want to lose that printing business. “No” was the answer, “it never really occurred to us as we already have a very full plate right now and our staff resources were already stretched.” However, that idea began to increasingly enter into our thoughts.
The next day, we reach out to Jim Hart, the general manager and ask him whether he was possibly interested in trying to revive the Crier? He gave us a tentative “yes,” but, but while he has known me for a long time, he doesn’t really know me.
So, he is cautious. I probably would be too.
OK, so now we needed to reach out to Dick Williams-owner. I was very nervous and uncomfortable calling Dick. I want to see if we can save The Crier because every newspaper in this country is important. And, I think we may be able to rebuild revenue and at least operate it at a break-even or hopefully a little better. But The Crier has been his baby – almost like a child since 1996 and I know how much he has suffered in making the decision to let it go. Part of me feels like I am trying to benefit from someone else’s loss; it feels like a selfish act. But I make the call and Dick tells me that he is in favor of Appen taking over The Crier if his two main staff — Jim and Donna will have jobs. “They have been very loyal to me for many years and I want to do as much as I can to provide for them,” he tells me.
So now it’s decision time. The Crier has been down now and officially “out of business” for one issue. The public has been told “it’s over.” The other newspaper that covers Dunwoody – a monthly – has already aggressively reached out to all The Crier advertisers – as any competing media would. How many of those advertisers may still be available? Will they come back? How much damage has the closure caused? Can we turn this thing around? Will Jim and Donna get on board? Without them we don’t think taking on The Crier is possible. Too many questions. Too many variables beyond our control. Too few answers.
I spend time reading the last issue of The Crier. I slowly read the “goodbyes” of long-time supporters. Then I read them again. I see and feel intense loyalty and sadness as I read. I begin to understand The Crier’s relationship with the community. Yes, I already understood that, but it is so much more of a personal relationship than I had ever imagined. This was not just a business closing — nothing remotely close. It was a matter of the heart I began to realize. They do not want to say goodbye. “Take good care of this newspaper,” I tell myself. It is not yours — never will be. It is theirs. “Tread very carefully,” I tell myself, “and don’t assume that anything needs to change.”
So, we can’t let more issues pass without publishing. The longer we wait, the more likely it becomes that the window of time for saving The Crier has come and gone. We have to go to press at the earliest date. So, this is Easter weekend coming up so we can’t come back out that week. OK, so May 2 needs to be the date we relaunch and begin publishing The Crier. That gives us from April 22 until April 30, more or less, to get a new newspaper out.
Find the reporters who were writing for The Crier. Reach out to the carriers who were delivering it. Change phones, repoint emails, set up credit card processing, find those advertisers, call the printer and see if the press window is still open. Find space in the warehouse for three or four more pallets a week arriving. Work on joint advertising rates. Start thinking about meeting people — who, where, when. Are we sure we want to do this?
Years ago, I would not have even given the complexity and number of moving parts or the lack of time a second thought, but I am old now, a lot older than before. And this is a lot of work. But Hans is on it now. Jim is on it. Donna is on it. And my staff is excited.
So, each day passes en route to our first deadline. Hans Appen, son and general manager, keeps checking off items on his list by the hour. I don’t see how he does it — just keeps plowing ahead, just like he did when he started the Alpharetta Chamber of Commerce. When does he sleep? Where does he get his energy?
It’s now Tuesday and we go to press next Monday, I think. Six days left. Two new hires back at the office — in sales for the Heralds. They need training and a huge investment of time. Our suit against the City of Roswell to compel them to comply with the law and make their public records public, moves forward. Soon they shall start deposing Roswell’s officials — the mayor and others. I can’t believe that they think that their public records are in some way better or different from any other city’s, but they do. That is, we still have four newspapers to put out and many other irons in the fire while we try to find and put our arms around everything we need to put out The Crier.
My 12-hour day seems to be rapidly coming to a sleepy close. We had a good day today. Jim is full speed reaching back out to all his advertisers. He seems as excited as we are. Twitter is alive and tweets and followers are rolling in. Dunwoody has such a different relationship with the Crier than Alpharetta, Milton, Johns Creek or Roswell does with us. We have big shoes to fill — Dick’s shoes. But that’s a good thing. It’s a moving thing — an inspiration and something — a standard, a history to live up to and a star to shoot for. It is by no means going to be easy, and we absolutely must have the support of the community, the businesses, the government, and the Crier’s loyal readers, but we can do this. We owe it to you, and we owe it to Dick. Let’s go! Only six more days.