Joining the independents

 

 

John Graham reports from Lovington, but he does a lot more than that.

When something’s happening in his hometown, Graham often goes out and covers it for his paper, the Lovington Leader. Then he goes back to his desk (in his publisher’s office, because he also owns the paper) to write the story, process a photo or two and get it all placed on a page.

Then, when all that’s done, he’ll leave his office and walk back to his press plant, where he can “burn” the plates, bend, hang and lock them into place, make sure the newsprint is webbed, and crank up the press.

And I’m sure he’s delivered more than his share of papers after a day’s press run. After a full career in newspapers, he’s done it all.

Unlike Graham, who followed his father into the newspaper business, Terry Martin married into the family that owns Clayton’s Union County Leader. He’s been running the operation for years now — the old-fashion way, by cutting and pasting and building “flats” that he and his lean team deliver to a press plant in nearby Texas. They distribute every week, without fail.

The Independent in Edgewood is owned by its editor and publisher, Leota Harriman, after an employee buyout of that publication from its founder, Wally Gordon.

Or how about Nick Seibel and his Silver City Daily Press? A few years ago, on a Friday, he learned that his hometown newspaper was going to print its last edition on the following Monday. Over the weekend he figured out how to buy the paper and, by Tuesday, it came out as his paper. He and his staff have been producing the daily ever since, having taken the newspaper back to its roots, in the newspaper’s original adobe digs in the downtown Silver City.

In Santa Fe, Robin Martin owns The New Mexican (as well as The Taos News). She took the reigns after her father, the late Robert M. McKinney, wrested control of his newspaper away from Gannett Company, the largest newspaper company in the nation. After becoming frustrated with the way Gannett was handling certain local matters, McKinney sued Gannett for breach of contract in an earlier sale, and eventually won back his full control of the paper.

David had slayed Goliath, and in 1991, Martin succeeded her father as its next independent publisher.

Then there’s Bob Trapp, another second-generation newspaper owner. He took over the Rio Grande Sun in Española from his father, Robert Trapp Sr., several years ago.

Theirs is a fire-breathing newspaper, to be sure. The Trapps have always been unyielding in their coverage of Rio Arriba County’s ugly underbelly, and that creates enemies. In fact, the younger Trapp has a massive rock collection — all thrown through the Sun’s windows over the years by people angry about some story or another.

But Bob Trapp, like his father, is an enemy to be feared. He pretty much keeps an attorney on retainer, ready to sue anybody who violates his — and all of our — rights regarding transparency. In a democracy, open meetings and open records laws keep the public’s business public, and Trapp doesn’t bend on that. The Trapps never have.

I could go on. About half of New Mexico’s newspapers are owned by local publishers — people who keep their communities informed on local events and issues that matter to them; they’re in the business of keeping their readers connected, and their newspapers are critical to the lifeblood of the communities they serve.

———

M.E. Sprengelmeyer became a newspaper owner about eight years ago. He had already enjoyed a stellar career as a newspaper reporter, both overseas and in the U.S., and in 2008, he bought The Guadalupe County Communicator in Santa Rosa. He then turned it into one of the best small-town weeklies around.

Then, he sold the newspaper to me. We closed the sale on Dec. 1, 2017, my new independence day.

I’m joining a group of people I have admired for years now: independent small-town newspaper men and women who, day in and day out, keep their communities informed and engaged. I’ve never owned my own paper, so I’m certain I’ll be in for some surprises, but at least I understand the business and know good journalism.

Santa Rosa and Guadalupe County need and deserve a great newspaper, and they’ve come to expect it. I’ve got big shoes to fill, but I’m up for the challenge.

It’s an honor and a responsibility to own and operate your own hometown community newspaper. I’m out to prove myself worthy.

———

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange and is now editor and publisher of The Communicator in Santa Rosa, N.M. He’s been writing this column for small-town newspapers around the state for more than four years and can still be reached at tmcdonald@gazettemediaservices.com.