JM 1-10 column

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 14, 2004

If you had to describe the comments, I suppose you really wouldn’t put them in the category of “hang them on the wall to perk you up in the morning.”

The more I think about it, I wonder what my poor mother would say if she knew what people have said about her son’s attempt at publishing a daily newspaper in the quaint town of Demopolis.

Yeah, yeah. You want to know what someone said about the newspaper, right?

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Well, if this one is like any other paper in modern civilization, you’ve probably heard it all before. We can’t splell. We isn’t very good with subject-verb agreement. That guy at the paper sure isn’t capable of matching her pronouns and antecedents. And don’t forget how the people down at The Times don’t read there grammar books, because its been a long time since they took Mrs. Pollyesther’s english class.

Well, if that’s the kind of comment you think I’m speaking of, guess again. This one goes beyond the blunders of deadlines and fast-paced editing.

The word, if my sources (and employees) are correct, was “hate.” Apparently, a couple of people in Demopolis — one whom I consider a friend — said they “hate” the newspaper.

Why, you ask? Let me give you a little background to there — pardon — their answer.

During the intense planning sessions necessary to convert a twice-weekly publication to a five-day daily, one of the hundreds of concerns we had to consider was the public’s reaction.

Obviously, we felt most people would enjoy having a local newspaper with local stories delivered or mailed to their homes every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. (And yes, pot shots are welcome here — like the letter from one reader who said she gets her five-day daily about two times a week.)

There were, and still are, enormous challenges involved in changing the distribution of a weekly paper into a daily paper. Given time — as I hope some have already found — the kinks will work themselves out.

But back to the “hate your paper” background… We knew the public’s reaction needed to be considered in the announcement and eventual format change of our newspaper.

From the beginning, our company’s mission was to build the foundation of a regional newspaper. We also believed Sumter, Greene, Hale and Perry counties would benefit from a daily newspaper with local stories in each of the respective counties.

Then I thought about another reaction to the change, and I asked some of the people in our company who have decades upon decades of newspaper experience.

“What are the people in Demopolis going to think about this?” I asked. “From what I’ve learned, Demopolis is a proud city that may not take well to its local paper branching out into other cities.”

I don’t remember any sort of prolific answer to that question. In fact, I think the answer went something like this: “You’re the editor and publisher. You figure it out.”

That answer also came with the implication that I’ve grown up on the editorial side of newspapers, and if there’s one thing I should be able to handle, it’s how to publish a newspaper that continues to represent the biggest word in our paper every day “DEMOPOLIS.”

The leaders of our company were right. If there was something I could handle, it was continuing to publish a newspaper that Demopolis citizens still considered their own. Or so I thought.

This week, I heard — on two separate occasions — the word “hate.” Apparently, two Demopolis citizens conveyed that they really don’t like The Demopolis Times any more, and their reason did not surprise me.

These two people wanted their own, Demopolis newspaper back. They only wanted to read about things happening in Demopolis, and weren’t really interested in a new opera house in Greensboro, for instance.

That’s a fairly natural reaction, I suppose. It’s also one of the mindsets citizens in Demopolis will one day dissolve. If we want to grow our community, we’re going to need outside help. And when we talk about growth, we’re not talking about making this a big, metropolitan city. We’re talking about making it a lively community where our children and grandchildren will come back to work one day.

Though I understood the “possessive” attitude from those two citizens, I must admit their second points baffled me a bit. And if they thought it, there must be more who think the same.

Apparently, another frustration with the paper is that it’s smaller and that we don’t have as much news about Demopolis any more. Yes, we have more news from our surrounding communities, but I didn’t believe we had cut back on Demopolis news, either.

There’s was only one way to find out, though, so I went back into our morgue of newspapers and selected two random weeks — one week when we only published twice, and one week when we published five times. And randomly, I chose the weeks of Aug. 20 and Dec. 16.

In the Aug. 20 and 24 papers — when we were twice a week — we had 34 items about Demopolis. Those items included everything from stories to pictures, but did not include police reports.

In the Dec. 16-20 papers — after we became a five-day daily — we had 71 items about Demopolis, including stories and pictures, but excluding police reports.

As for the smaller paper: During the Aug. 20 and 24 editions, we had two 16-page papers (or 32 pages of content during that week). In the Dec. 16-20 papers, we had a total of 66 pages that week.

On the whole, comments about our conversion to a daily have been magnificent. Over time, maybe we’ll earn the trust of a few more readers — both in Demopolis and our entire region.