The Neosho Daily News, The Carthage Press, The Big Nickel, and The Neosho Post are for sale.
I don't recalled seeing anything about this in The Daily this week and I confess that since I have moved to Joplin I have not seen every issue of The Press.
Liberty Group Publishing, which has owned these publications and more than 300 others since 1998, plans to offer its stable of newspapers to the highest bidder. Liberty formed six years ago when the Los Angeles leveraged-buyout company Leonard Green and Partners bought many of Hollinger's small dailies and weeklies for $310 million.
The plans were revealed in the Aug. 5 Chicago Tribune. Of course, Liberty's CEO, a lawyer named Ken Serota, had no comment.
According to the Tribune article, "Liberty's newspapers and shoppers, based mostly in suburban and rural areas, are seen as attractive because they face little competition for local advertising dollars and generate consistently high cash flows. Though few of Liberty's community newspapers have a circulation of more than 20,000 (the Daily and The Press are probably lucky if they have circulations of 4,000 and more likely pushing 3,000) the group posted 2003 sales of close to $189 million on a readership of about 2.3 million per week."
An unnamed private equity investor told the Tribune, "Liberty is an interesting, stable business. They dominate advertising in these towns and small cities where they don't have to go up against broadcast, cable or radio like newspapers in large markets."
Another attractive quality of Liberty, the article said, is that its newspapers are located in clusters, or several in certain geographical areas like The Daily, The Press, the Big Nickel, the Post, the Greenfield Vedette and The Miller Press in this area.
What that enables the company to do is to gut a newspaper as Liberty has done with The Carthage Press, taking away its press and laying off its press workers, taking away its composing department and laying off its workers, and having these and other functions, such as insertions, done at Neosho.
Recently, The Carthage Press announced that it will move from its present historic location just off the square to a site on Central Avenue, amongst the fast food places. In truth, a three-story building such as The Press is currently in, is far too large since most of the functions have been taken away from Carthage and sent to Neosho, improving the bottom line for The Daily and for Liberty, but damaging the Press and the Carthage community.
The lack of competition cited in the Tribune article is definitely the scenario in this region. The Daily went without competition for years until Jimmie Sexton started The Neosho Post. The Post made inroads on the Neosho advertising dollar until Liberty bought it and turned it into an adjunct of the Daily. The only competition in Carthage for years has been a free weekday news sheet called The Mornin' Mail, put out by H. J. Johnson of Heritage Publishing, a small Carthage print shop. It has concentrated primarily on city news and has not made a dent in The Press's advertising, though it has scooped it some major governmental stories over the past decade.
The Press was at one time (during the times when Neil Campbell and I served as managing editors) a worthy competitor to The Joplin Globe for area stories, including some Joplin stories.
That has come to an end for the most part as the Press has turned to less experienced reporters and has been hamstrung by the early deadlines forced on it by having to have it printed in Neosho each day.
What would a sale mean for the area newspapers? It's hard to tell. It would be easy to say that things couldn't get worse, but as long as there are people who put the immediate bottom line ahead of the long-term health of the newspapers and the community, things could get worse. There is already a dearth of investigative reporting, a lack of in-depth coverage, and an inclination to accept every handout from every public official without even checking them out.
Newspapers can be the lifeblood of a community, a source of light that keeps officials on the up and up. When no one performs these watchdog activities, that is when you have the kinds of self-serving shenanigans area officials in Jasper and Newton counties have gotten away with for years.
I hope that the editors and publishers of the area newspapers keep us informed. I don't expect that to happen. Newspaper people always talk about publishing the truth. They usually make a genuine effort to do just that...unless, of course, their own newspapers are the story.
When Liberty is sold, at least one longtime official will not be part of the deal. The South Sebring Florida News-Sun reports that its new publisher is Ralph Bush. Bush, the son of the late Channing Bush of Neosho, was publisher of The Carthage Press for six years. Before that, he served as director of national advertising for Liberty Group Publishing, based in Neosho. His grandfather, Howard Bush, was the owner of The Neosho Daily News. His cousin, Randy Cope, is the current publisher of the Daily, as well as Liberty Group Publishing's regional manager for this area.
Bush was moved into the publisher position at The Press after the firing of Jim Farley, who had been publisher for more than a decade.
According to an article in The News-Sun, "(Bush) has a strong history of community involvement. In Carthage, Bush served on the chamber board and its executive committee, was a founding member of Leadership Carthage, was a board member of Children's Center of Southwest Missouri and also was on the Fair Acres Family YMCA Board. That involvement is exactly what he plans to continue in Highlands County."
The article quotes Bush as saying, "The News-Sun has a long history of being involved in the community and plays a vital role in Highlands County. I look forward to the opportunity to become a part of that involvement. That is what a community newspaper is all about."
The timing is lousy since we are only a few short days away from the beginning of the high school sports seasons, but The Carthage Press is on the lookout for a new sports writer. Sports Editor Michael Sudhalter's last day was Saturday. According to a farewell column he wrote in Saturday's paper, he has taken a sports position at a newspaper in Moscow, Idaho.
An Aug. 17 preliminary hearing has been scheduled for Edward J. Meerwald, Jr., who is alleged to have killed two Neoshoans, James Dodson and his seven-year-0ld grandaughter July 31 while driving under the influence.
On Friday, the judge ruled that Meerwald can wear his own clothing, rather than the county orange jumpsuit and he will not have to be shackled "as long as he is not a danger to escape or cause a disturbance" according to court records.
Meerwald is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. If convicted, he can be sentenced to a maximum of seven years in prison. Area Mothers Against Drunk Driving officials are trying to find other DWI charges within the past 10 years. If they can find two, Meerwald can be charged with second degree murder.
Meerwald is being held in the Newton County Jail in lieu of $250,00 bond.
School starts in the Joplin R-8 School District tomorrow (Monday) and I am ready to see the kids again. R-8 teachers returned to work last Thursday, beginning with a meeting/pep rally in the high school auditorium, followed by departmental meetings and a luncheon for all district employees.
Building meetings were held Thursday afternoon and Friday. On Friday morning, South teachers went through an in-service session to learn a new electronic gradebook, which will enable parents to be able to see how their children are doing simply by going to an Internet address and typing in a password. Parents can also check how many absences their children have had and how many times their children have been disciplined.
Open House was held Thursday night. Parents picked up their children's schedules, attended a brief meeting in the South auditorium, then attended five to six-minute sessions in each of their children's seven classes. We had a sizable attendance.