Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, February 22, 2013 8:41 pm

Want to run a newspaper? Here’s how you do it right.


Finally, finally, finally, the owner of a newspaper has told the geeks, waterheads, nematodes, mouth-breathers and knuckle-dragging readers who masturbate to gun ads but can’t STAND the possibility that their local newspaper might publish a story about two happy people doing something that’s none of their damn business to take their whiny, misprioritized complaints and shove them north toward their tonsils.

God, I need a cigarette. And I haven’t smoked in almost 35 years.

Our story begins when Jessica Powell and Crystal Craven — yes, that’d be two people with ladyparts — got married in, believe it, Jones County, Missafreakingsippi, the left ventricle of Bat Country. The Laurel Leader-Call newspaper did a front page story, acknowledging the historic (albeit legally unrecognized) nature of the event, and then basically letting the protagonists speak for themselves and for each other — not an approach recommended for political coverage, but perfectly acceptable for a wedding story. (Bonus pathos: Craven has Stage 4 brain cancer.)

Well, Leader-Call readers freaked out. They called. They wrote. They virtually spat on the paper’s Facebook page.

So how did the paper’s owner, Jim Cegielski, respond?

Did he pretend there was no controversy? Or that if there was, it was OK to ignore it? Did he, God forbid, send an underling out to lie to people about his position or lack thereof instead of manning up and doing his job?

Oddly, no.

He stood up. He took responsibility. He told the people who were wrong that they were wrong. He told them to stop misbehaving toward his employees just because they’d read a story they didn’t like. And he told them that if they didn’t like all of the above, they could get bent. (If the link doesn’t go directly to Cegielski’s column, flip to page A5, where it’s at the top.)

And the horrible financial price the paper paid for this optimally competent exercise of its privileges and duties? Fifteen canceled subscriptions. Even in Laurel, Mississippi, that’s the equivalent of a few households going away for a long weekend.

So here’s a suggestion to people who want to run newspapers that both make money and bond with with their communities in ways that make long-term profitability even possible: Do your jobs. Be right. And when you are right, take no shit from those who are wrong, particularly when it’s aimed at your underlings. Even most of those who disagree with you will respect that; wanting your boss to have your back is a nonpartisan policy goal in and out of newspapers.

I’m sure Warren Buffett’s BH Media already has some decent ideas about how to dig the News & Record out of the hole it has dug for itself in the past five or so years (not all of which, I hasten to add, is local talent’s fault). But I’m betting that sending someone to Laurel to buy Jim Cegielski lunch and listen to him talk for an hour would not be a bad strategy at all.

(h/t: Gawker via Athenae)

 

6 Comments »

  1. Well said! -Billy Jones

    Comment by recyclebill — Friday, February 22, 2013 8:57 pm @ 8:57 pm | Reply

  2. Great story. As a small town newspaper publisher/owner myself, I can say it’s not easy to be brave week in and week out. You just get beat down by the complaints and frankly, the threats from your advertisers are much scarier than losing a few subscriptions.

    It’s hard to always do what’s right when you’re in such a tenuous industry, and I give big props to this crew for such an outstanding job.

    Comment by Stan R. Mitchell — Friday, February 22, 2013 9:34 pm @ 9:34 pm | Reply

  3. Billy — Thank you, sir.
    Stan: Thank you, as well. Having worked for both small-town papers and midsized metros, I know the levels of pressure differ and that you guys are at a lot more risk than papers that keep high-dollar, white-shoe law firms on retainer. To me, that just makes the failure of the bigger guys to exercise civic and moral leadership that much less excusable.

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, February 23, 2013 11:59 am @ 11:59 am | Reply

  4. I was news editor at a small bi-weekly paper for a few years and saw my publisher go toe to toe with a complainant in defense of a story I ran. (That article also sold a record number of papers). He knew that keeping a paper honest kept it in business. He later was replaced by a friend of one of the business moguls. The paper is now defunct. A paper is only as good as its talent and its stories. To get ads, the paper has to have readers. Kudos for bringing great reflection on this story.

    Comment by irisinnc — Saturday, February 23, 2013 6:09 pm @ 6:09 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks, Iris!

    Comment by Lex — Saturday, February 23, 2013 6:14 pm @ 6:14 pm | Reply


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