This month marks the anniversary of when Lisa and I entered newspaper ownership. It was 37 years ago, in January 1983 when we decided to buy a weekly newspaper that I had worked as editor six years prior. We were young and green but with the hearts of lions.
Relatively new owners Betty and Raymond Terry put the Carroll County News up for sale. If I knew then what I know now we would probably have stayed with our safety net of comfortable jobs. The 100+ year old newspaper had a 100+ year old competitor in the same small town. Not only that, but the competition was then owned by a four or five generation family with deep roots in the community. We were the new kids on the block and selling advertising was tough. The competition had the lion’s share of regular advertising wrapped up.
I hit the road to neighboring towns on a weekly routine and was able to find essential success. Then we started publishing several special sections. It seemed although advertisers planned their weekly ad for the competition that they were eager to jump into something new. We published specials for whatever idea seemed to make sense: tax season, farming, spring home improvement, paint up fix up clean up efforts, brides, dairy month, a football contest, football preview section, holiday recipes and more. We took a leap of faith and, on a shoe string began a total-market coverage shopper.
It was hard work but our efforts and the response from advertisers brought in enough money to pay the bills. It was survival.
In 1992 a local bank funded our buyout of the competing paper across town. It wanted their
building for a community center.
From there we soon added the newspaper and shopper in the neighboring town and grew from there. We invested into established publications in Kentucky but sold them 15 years later to
acquire more titles closer to home in Tennessee.
It didn’t happen overnight but our small company grew to include more newspapers that were members of the Tennessee Press Association than any other. January is said to be the worst month to have jumped into this business but I didn’t know that at the time. Opportunity was there and we seized it.
It is only by the grace of God that we were able to continue in business, struggling to compete. Reflecting on 1983 brings back scary memories of fragile equipment, skeleton staff and 20-hour work days.
Survival instincts kept the papers rolling off the presses each week at the local printing plant. I had a business formula that I had learned and I stuck to it.
2006 was the best year financially. The depression of 2009 and the super retail centers forced many of the local good advertisers, including most of the supermarkets that were our “bread and butter” out of business. New technology brought on the Internet. We try to roll with the punches. I am excited to embrace 2020 and what this new decade holds in store.
Dennis Richardson is the CEO of Magic Valley Publishing Company, Inc. the company that owns the Chester County Independent and 13 other newspapers in West and Middle Tennessee.