SMITH COLUMN: New life for newspapers
Published 6:01 pm Wednesday, June 14, 2023
Lately I’ve been hanging out with a few newspaper publishers who remain convinced that print journalism is not dead. They are not doomsayers. They are intrepid entrepreneurs.
Otis Brumby, a third-generation publisher, not only has kept the Marietta Daily Journal healthy and viable, but he has also acquired additional papers and not only is turning a profit, he is also providing a service to his communities.
Mark Smith, whose principal publication is the Eatonton Messenger, owns newspapers and magazines that are substantial. He is having fun as a small town publisher. Dink Nesmith, who co-owns Community Newspapers, located in Athens, has always understood the importance of black ink on the balance sheet in the newspaper business and never lightly takes the role of being the community’s conscience.
He and his partners, led by former Atlanta Newspaper executive, Tom Wood, enjoy making trips to the bank with smiles on their faces, and they are happy to go toe-to-toe with a corrupt politician or a public official who needs comeuppance.
Since most of the company’s publications are weekly papers, they are all about photos and feel-good stories, featuring homecoming queens, the best halfback to come on the scene since Herschel Walker, and the 4-H clubber who bakes the best cake.
Weddings and anniversaries are forever a staple of weekly coverages which often results in neat clippings for posting on the refrigerator door. By the way, what is the appeal of printing off a story from the Internet about your child becoming the valedictorian of his/her class and displaying printed copy paper on the refrigerator?
Your son’s Little League team wins the state championship — what is there to clip and save. Are there scrapbooks anymore? The Internet is robbing us of recalling our precious memories.
Dink and his wife, Pam, own acreage, and a historic farmhouse in Smithsonia, a settlement in Oglethorpe County, which brought about a serendipity development when he learned that his friend Ralph Maxwell, longtime publisher-owner of the Oglethorpe Echo, was calling it quits after the Echo’s nearly a century and a half of putting out weekly pages for the community.
Nesmith has been an idea man all his life, dating back to his youth in Jesup where, as the son of son of a funeral director, he dated in a Hearst. He became an ink-stained-wretch by the time he could peddle his bicycle. That era brought about a providential emotional merger. Dink would aspire to pursue the sentimental benefits of writing a column, and he would underscore the business side of newspapering. He could smell a story from any vantage point, and, early on, he underscored the art of turning a profit.
He made a deal with Ralph Maxwell. Dink would create a non-profit to take over the paper. He then brought about an arrangement with Charles Davis, dean of the Henry Grady College of Journalism, to give Grady students an opportunity to “run” a weekly newspaper, at least from an editorial standpoint. Every box you can associate with publishing a newspaper can be stamped “win.” The biggest winner, of course, is the Oglethorpe community.
Studies have revealed that when a community loses its newspaper, it suffers across the board: economically, socially, and governmentally. It has no official voice. There is no watchdog to keep tabs on unscrupulous politicians and keep an eye out for those who abuse trust when it comes to handling the public’s money.
Maybe this model can be a savior of the weekly newspaper business and bring about a stimulant for communities who need such help these days more than ever. More than likely other publishers will contact Dink and the affable dean and find a way to copy this revolutionary model.
Saving newspapers and making them vital means that there is also an opportunity to save communities.