Newspaper changes with times

By JON ALVERSON JALVERSON@DDTONLINE.COM,

The first person in my family who worked for a newspaper in the United States of America was William Barrett Travis.

That was in the late 1820s in Claiborne, Alabama. There’s a historical marker by his house on U.S. Hwy 84. He was a lawyer and owned a small, irregularly published broadsheet called the Claiborne Chronicle. He was my fourth-great, grand uncle.

The newspaper had the motto, “Puttest not the oxen in the ditch prior to the Sabbath.”

He would publish the newspaper for a year or so before leaving Alabama to join the defenders of the Alamo. He would die as the commander of the Alamo after drawing a line in the sand. He drew that line in the sand and asked those with him, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett among them, to cross the line if they wanted to stay and fight for Texas.

These people, most not from Texas, fought for the place they’d adopted as their home.

In the almost 200 years following Travis’ stint as a newspaperman, there have been others in my family who took up the pen and paper to make their living.

We rarely owned the newspapers and mostly toiled in the backrooms filling pages with stories of the towns where we lived.

It wasn’t our family’s main line of work, but it definitely made newspaper readers of us all.

And now, here I sit, as publisher of one of the historically great, small, daily newspapers in the Southeast.

For sure, a dying breed.

In the 150 years of its publication this newspaper has grown from publishing once-weekly to a six-day daily newspaper that was once sold for the highest, per-subscriber dollar figure in the nation.

Its pages have chronicled the great rise of the Delta, as well as the Delta’s great decline.

One thing the newspaper has always been, during all those changes, is a chronicler of the stories of this place we live in.

Another thing the newspaper has always been is a business.

In this decade alone, we have contributed more than $15 million in payroll and more than $250,000 in property taxes to the economy of this county.

We are assuredly the definition of the small businesses that all politicians laud as the backbone of our economy.

We’ve also done it all explicitly for the people of Washington County. This product we produce is made by folks who live here for folks who live here.

Today, we end one iteration of the newspaper and embark on another.

The newspaper will now publish twice per week, on Wednesday and Saturday, and focus intimately on the local news of Washington County.

For those who have current subscriptions to the newspaper, we will extend those subscriptions by the number of papers you would have received if we still published five days per week. In other words, for every month of your subscription remaining, you will receive about 10 weeks more worth of newspapers twice per week. We’ve already made calculations for those with subscriptions longer than a month.

We make this move, honestly, because many people have turned to consume their news from businesses located in far-off places whose volume can afford them to give the news away for free.

We can’t do that and nor should we.

We are the only outfit in town producing real stories everyday about the world of Washington County. That won’t change as we will continually post those stories to our website ddtonline.com. We’ll publish those stories in paper form twice per week as a compendium of the activities shaping our lives here.

But we can’t do it for free.

It costs money to pay for reporters, sports editors and managing editors to gather the news and put it into a printable format. We can’t simply have a news service regurgitate someone else’s work about our town for us.

It costs money to buy rolls of newsprint — about $14,000 per truckload we receive every month.

It costs money to purchase the electricity to roll the press — about $2,500 per month.

It costs money to simply operate this business in Washington County — about $26,000 a year in property taxes.

It costs me gray hairs when people complain that we ask them to pay for the news their fellow citizens have worked to produce.

Why should people like Catherine Kirk, Leanne Hughes, Jermaine Lewis, Keith Williams, Ali Nichols, Linda Lee or Charles Cheeter be asked to do what they do for free?

We don’t ask for much. In fact, you can subscribe to the newspaper for as little as $6 per month in our new format.

What we do ask is for a fair number of the residents of Washington County to recognize this locally grown organization is the only news group here who really cares about the community.

We care more than Facebook, Twitter or Instagram ever will.

And yes, the moves we have made this week are a sea-change for the newspaper.

But, we will continue to fight the good fight, produce news that matters to Washington County and ask only that we are able to meet our financial obligations in a wildly changing media landscape.

During all this change, we will continue to be the only news organization in town who has an opinion about what happens here.

While I have had many opinions about this place we call home, one thing has remained the same: I sign off my columns each week with the following line, Jon Alverson is proud to be the publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times.

While we may no longer publish a daily newspaper in Greenville, I’ll always be proud of the work we do here for the people we share our lives with.

My family and I love this community. We love our church — First Presbyterian — and all the members, Holly and I love the Washington County organizations we each belong to. Our children and us love Washington School. Our family loves our neighborhood, and I treasure all the volunteers, leaders and citizens that comprise Greenville and Washington County.

I am committed to the continual rebuilding and success of our community. The Delta Democrat-Times plays a vital role in the makeup, direction and recording of the life and times of our citizens. I am committed 100% as the publisher of our community newspaper with leading our staff in fulfilling our mission each and every day.

Now, like my ancestor, I’m drawing a line in the sand here. If the news we provide for Washington County is worth it, you’ll cross that line with us and pay the pittance we ask for it.

Thousands of you walked across the line long ago and we are glad you have stayed with us.

Won’t the rest of you join us?

 

Angel alert goes out to the journalists in the nation who still produce real work that is necessary for the openness of our world. Without that work, our world would be a much darker place.

 

Jon Alverson is proud to be the publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Write to him at jalverson@ddtonline.com or call him at 335-1155.