Every few months, I bring up what I consider to be the best weekly newspaper (emphasis on news) this area has seen, the late and lamented Lamar Press.
The last issue of The Press ran July 11, 1997, 10 years ago today. It was never a financial success because the same mistakes were made that were later repeated with the Joplin Daily experiment. Just because you put out a good product does not mean people are going to flock to your door. You have to sell it.
As with the Joplin Daily, The Press never received any commitment from the advertising end. It never had a salesperson solely devoted to it. In fact, the woman who sold ads at the time (and who originally came up with the idea for a Lamar weekly newspaper) usually left Carthage at about 11 a.m., arrived in Lamar in time to have lunch with her boyfriend, who was about the only one who was selling her any advertising, made a couple of stops after lunch, and was back in Carthage by 2:30 p.m.
Still, in those 49 issues, we put out a newspaper that is still talked about a decade later. Our motto was "All Lamar News" and that's what we put in the pages of The Lamar Press. We had extensive city, Barton County government, courts, records, and school coverage and even investigative reporting.
The Lamar Press was also a project to which everyone on The Carthage Press news staff wanted to contribute. Amy Lamb, the Carthage lifestyles editor, offered in-person coverage of the execution of a convicted killer; Sports Editor Brian Webster contributed a non-sports feature on the reunion of a Bosnian family; Ron Graber's photos were featured in many issues, and he teamed with me on coverage of the conviction of swindler Pat Graham.
The Lamar Press won its only journalism award after it was already out of business when the Kansas City Press Club persented Lamar High School graduate Cait Purinton with an investigative reporting award for her coverage of scandal surrounding the operation of the Lamar Guest House. Cait's work led to the closing of that facility and if state officials had followed up as they should have done, it might have saved the lives of the 11 people who died last November in the Anderson Guest House fire. Cait was only 18 at the time she wrote the hard-hitting series.
Cait was also part of what was probably the best-remembered feature of The Press, our columnists. Unlike most newspapers which try to recruit columnists based on either the organization to which someone belongs or in an effort to hit some niche market, I simply looked for people who could write and had stories to tell. In addition to Cait, we had regular columns from Nancy Hughes, Marvin VanGilder, Doug Oakes, Kim Earl, Katie Gilkey, and me. Nancy Hughes had columns in each of the 49 issues.
My biggest regret about the demise of The Lamar Press was that these columnists, with the exception of VanGilder, who writes two or three columns a week for The Carthage Press, are not still writing columns for local newspaper readers to enjoy. They are equal to or better most of the columnists on area daily and weekly newspapers.
Jim Farley, who was publisher of both Press newspapers, bucked his bosses with American Publishing (later Liberty Group Publishing, now GateHouse Media) and did not shut down the newspaper immediately when he was given the word, but gave us the chance to put out one last issue.
I am sure that did not put him in good stead with the big boys, but it gave us a chance to go out the way we wanted to, something GateHouse did not allow with the Joplin Daily.
Our final issue included most of Cait's investigation into the Lamar Guest House, columns from nearly all of our regulars (and these were not maudlin last-issue columns, but the same quality columns the readers expected), a review of a Barton County grand jury, my story on the life of an undercover cop taken from depositions in Barton County Circuit Court records, the release of the schedule for the Lamar Free Fair,and, of course, an article on the closing of The Carthage Press with a thank you to the readers.
A newspaper of that kind can succeed in this area, but it will never be done under the auspices of the chains that operate this area's newspapers. And that's a shame.