Monday, March 27, 2017

The death of the Neosho Daily News

All of the time I was growing up a weekday ritual was going to Gum Mercantile in the heart of downtown Newtonia every afternoon after school to await the arrival of the Neosho Daily News.

It was a ritual that was passed down from generation to generation. The older men sat around the wood stove in the back of the store, discussing politics and the weather, while the kids whose parents were at work would wait in front of the store and read through the comic books.

For years, it was a brown, four-door vehicle that appeared to have made it through both world wars that brought the paper sometime between 4 and 4:30, except on Wednesdays when it had grocery advertising inserts and arrived about a half hour to 45 minutes late.

The bundle of papers was handed to Vernie Browning, the postmaster, who put them in the boxes. I opened Box 45, removed the Daily, bought a Dr. Pepper and sat on the front sidewalk of the store reading it from cover to cover.

Though I was interested in the page one stories, my favorite parts of the paper were the sports pages, which had the last night baseball stories that you couldn't get in the morning Joplin Globe, the comics, especially Peanuts, and the Washington Merry Go Round column by investigative reporters Drew Pearson and Jack Anderson.

Great times, still as vivid in my mind as if they happened yesterday.

Gum Mercantile is just a memory, the building the only evidence of the social hub of generations past. Charles Schultz, the cartoonist who drew Peanuts, is no longer with us and the Washington Merry Go Round came to a halt long ago, the corruption continuing but with no Pearson or Anderson to bring it to light.

Next month, the Neosho Daily News, a fixture for generations in the yards and mailboxes of Newton County, will breathe its last.

The name will still exist but the definition of daily will be twisted like a pretzel so Gatehouse Media doesn't have to foot the bill to change its stationery.

If you believe Gatehouse Media's regional publisher Jamey Honeycutt, the company's decision to cut the Daily from five editions a week to two beginning next month is going to be greatest thing for Neosho since Dog N Suds opened.

"We had to determine what we do better than anyone and that was cover local news," Honeycutt said in a top-of-page-one story in Sunday's Neosho Daily News. He made it sound as if two newspapers were going to magically enable the Daily (it will still be called the Daily because it will be updated online) to increase its news output. That can't happen unless Gatehouse is willing to invest money in its product and that is something the company does not intend to do.

That's not the picture Honeycutt paints, however.

"When your print edition comes on Tuesday and the weekend, it will be a thick edition, focused exclusively on local news, sports, and advertising."

Later in that same paragraph, Honeycutt said he hopes this will make the Neosho Daily News appointment reading.

Certainly that will be true if your appointment is at a dentist's office and your only choices are the new thicker Neosho Daily News and a year-old copy of Ladies Home Journal.

The article continues, "No other news agency in the area focuses on Neosho and Newton County like the Daily News and the Daily News takes it's (sic) responsibility seriously."

No, it doesn't.

No one in the corporate offices of Gatehouse Media cares one bit about the people of Neosho or Newton County, any more than they care about the people of Carthage whose venerated newspaper is being cut to once-a-week publication, or the people of Miami, whose newspaper is also being cut to two editions per week.

Today's Daily is not the Daily that Anne and Ken Cope published and edited. It is not the Daily of Howard Bush, Harlan Stark, Bill Ball, or my old friend and baseball teammate Dean Keeling.

While good people still work at the Daily, Gatehouse Media, which continues to buy newspapers and then shred them until they are nearly non-existent, has no concept of community service, no idea of what newspapers are supposed to be.

Gatehouse banks on the idea that the community has a loyalty to its hometown newspaper, demanding that loyalty without ever showing any loyalty of its own.

Thankfully, former Daily Publisher Randy Cope is still alive, or he would be rolling in his grave.


Anonymous said...

Nostalgia is great, but it doesn't pay the bills. Look at any Monday or Tuesday edition of any of these papers and you'll see they don't have enough advertisers in them to even pay for the print, let alone anything else. People consume news in many different formats........that maybe why The Turner Report is online only and not a print edition.

Randy said...

You are correct about the lack of advertising that exists in newspapers like the Carthage Press and the Neosho Daily News. I can't speak for Neosho, but I know that in Carthage, there are many businesses that have not seen an advertising salesperson for the Carthage Press in years. Several years ago, the company abandoned the concept of having ad salesmen who actually went to businesses. The idea of building spec ads to show businesses what good newspaper advertising can do, though proven successful, was also abandoned. Then when corporate decided that it needed larger profit margins, it became quicker to simply cut staff, including advertising. You also used to have publishers at each newspaper who lived in the community and also were involved in advertising sales and also took a leadership role in the community. Today's publishers run several newspapers and usually do not know the people in the community. Combine that with news staffs that are nearly non-existent, large portions of community news that were once faithfully covered, but now never see a reporter, and the corresponding decline in circulation, Gatehouse Media's newspapers have become a product that is unattractive to advertisers.

Anonymous said...

You can't keep blaming Gatehouse. If it was a profitable venture, as you keep telling yourself it is, then you and Hacker would be out looking for investors to either buy the papers or start your own.

Randy said...

Not meaning to be critical of your opinion, but what you say is ridiculous. I can keep blaming Gatehouse because it has taken small town businesses that should survive nicely on an 8-10 percent profit margin and forced them into the ground because they have to make more and more cuts in order to make their debt payments and to continue their Ponzi strategy of buying more and more newspapers. It is not easy to mount a competitor to even newspapers like the Neosho Daily and the Carthage Press. First, as little as they resemble what they once were, they are still the established newspapers in the community. Plus, their horrible track record, along with the failures of other newspaper chains' products have given the impression that newspapers are a dying industry and therefore not worthy of investment. That being said, a competitor was formed to the Gatehouse newspaper in Maryville, Missouri, and ended up buying out the Gatehouse paper. Gatehouse ended up shutting down its weekly in Girard, Kansas, after a competitor was launched in that community. There have also been situations where advertisers and community leaders have banded together to bring a competitor to a community. That happened in Lamar in 1979 when local businesses, tired of relentless negative reporting in the Democrat (this was between my two stints with the newspaper) sought out Jim Peters from Butler, who ran the shopper the XChanger in that community. XChanger2 nearly ran the Democrat out of business, taking away some of its larger advertisers, including Lamar Grocery. and still publishes as a weekly shopper. In Butler, the original XChanger eventually ran the Bates County Headliner out of business. For a more recent example, Jimmy Sexton launched a highly successful competitor to the Neosho Daily a few years back, the weekly Neosho Post. It lasted for a few years until Gatehouse bought it out at what I understand was a nice payday for Sexton. I doubt seriously that today's Gatehouse would bother. It would have justed shut down the Neosho Daily and bought more newspapers somewhere else.

Twenty years ago, launching a print competitor for the Carthage Press or the Neosho Daily would have been something I would have jumped at it. I am past the point where I would put what little money I have on the line and go into debt, but my services are definitely available to help anyone who wants to give it a try.

Jessica said...

People in Carthage are organizing an effort to buy back the Carthage Press now.

Anonymous said...

@ Jessica,

Gatehouse's only purpose is cutting expenses/maximizing profits until it's stocks are artificially inflated and then the principals will sell their interests for a handsome profit. All of this is accomplished before the shell of newspaper staff loses subscriptions and the house of cards falls down, because if not chances of profit is very slim. I doubt you will successfully negotiate any deal with Gatehouse that doesn't cost you dearly. But the effort is noble even if highly unlikely. Best of Luck!

Anonymous said...

There is about as much demand to have Turner come back to the local newspaper as there is for Turner to come back to the local junior high school.

Anonymous said...

Reading this maudlin article now I get it. How the Baby Boomers destroyed through their own stupidity the world in which they grew up in.

What with the Internet and cell phones and tablets and McDonalds wi-fi none of us need ever read a newspaper again. That is a good thing.