I fall more in love with community journalism every day.
I stream the Pulitzer ceremonies every year and always root for the underdog. When The Storm Lake Times pulled off a stunner in 2017 by taking the prize for editorial writing for its two years of reporting on corporate agricultural interests, I reread their work for weeks.
Their newsroom consists of four people. Art, Tom, Dolores and Mary Cullen. Their circulation is 3,000 biweekly. I still get goosebumps.
The industry is not an easy one to work in. But I reject the notion that I am unfairly challenged to do my job. Teaching is hard. Welding is hard. Roofing in the Georgia sun, or more recently in the springtime monsoons, sounds impossible. In life we all face our own unique set of challenges. I’ve never approached my work as if the deck was unfairly stacked against me.
Maybe it is.
My day to day is a balancing act of beating back emails, managing the finances, keeping tabs on staff and helping where I can, and looking to the future to grow the company. In many ways if I don’t, no one will. It’s an awesome responsibility that both terrifies and drives me.
Two weeks ago our printer called. Mike is a vendor we use to print our 75,000 weekly newspapers. Most small community newspapers don’t do their own printing and are thus much more susceptible to the whims of the industry than a large daily.
In January, he called to tell me my rates were going up (again) because of additional tariffs placed on importing newsprint by the Trump Administration, and, of course, my 27 percent increase was out of his control.
For reference, our printing bill constitutes about 30 percent of my company’s annual expenses. A 27 percent increase on 30 percent of expenses is untenable — for any business.
Mike works as hard as any man I know. He was recently asked to switch to night shifts, which knowing Mike, means he just doesn’t sleep at all. I sympathize with him because no one likes to be the bearer of bad news, and often times it’s not his fault.
We all have our challenges.
This time when he called, sure enough, it was more bad news, but it had nothing to do with us.
He was calling to tell me that The Dunwoody Crier, another weekly newspaper he printed in an adjacent market to ours, was closing up shop and he’d just printed their last edition.
I take zero pleasure in another newspaper’s struggles — including our competitors’. When any newspaper prints its last edition I feel sick about it. Good journalism is the bedrock of our democracy and the fabric of our communities. We all need more of it — not less.
I was familiar with The Crier. My dad, who taught me everything I know about the industry, had spoken highly of the publication for years and of their General Manager Jim Hart and Editor and Publisher Dick Williams. We modeled our politics podcast after Dick’s “The Georgia Gang” TV show.
Mike suggested that we call Jim and talk about the possibility of working together to keep The Crier going.
If you are reading this, it means we printed the Crier’s first edition under the Appen Media umbrella. We don’t pretend to have the special sauce to make this work. We know we’ll have rough spots.
What I do know is this. We will give the people of Dunwoody every effort we can muster. The Crier deserves nothing less. Dick deserves nothing less.
We all have our own challenges. I’m excited about this one.