Two States. Two Regions. Two Types of Papers. Same Philosophy

There are moments in late winter and spring when I have trouble remembering what city I’m in. From mid January to mid May, there are conventions and training events everywhere. Why people don’t schedule them in warmer months is beyond me. You might find me in Nashville, Toronto, Oregon, Minneapolis, Tampa, South Dakota, Winnipeg or a few dozen points in between. By the time April arrives, I generally have a backlog of newspapers who have patiently waited for me to find time to work with their staffs on-site.

Between conventions in Des Moines and Louisiana, I found a few days in late April to visit two newspapers that, at first glance, seem to have little in common. One is a daily. The other, a non-daily. One is in the Midwest, the other in Texas. However, I found a trait that binds these papers together. Their insistence on serving their communities and providing quality products took me by surprise.

The Herald: Jasper, Indiana

When John Rumback, Co-Publisher and Editor, first contacted me via email, I received the following marching orders: “We need help in three areas: improving photo and color quality, fixing problems with PDFs and assessing our current editorial and advertising production systems in preparation for an upgrade.”

The job seemed easy enough. Upon arriving at John’s office and taking a glance at some recent issues of the paper, I was immediately surprised by the size of the publication. A daily paper, in a town of 14,000, which looked like it averaged around 30 pages per day. Sometimes the paper in my hometown of Knoxville, Tenn. doesn’t run that many pages.

As I glanced through the pages, I was struck by the quality of the photos and coverage of local events. I was surprised to learn that this small town newspaper consistently wins national awards, beating out some of the biggest names in the industry, in the area of photojournalism. On my final day at The Herald, I met an intern, Rachel Mummey, and learned she was named the 2010 College Photographer of the Year.

Before visiting The Herald, I would probably have asked why the college photographer of the year was interning at a small paper in Indiana. After two days with The Herald staff, I wasn’t surprised.

Wise County Messenger: Decatur, Texas

I met Phil Major, publisher of the Messenger, after speaking at the winter convention of Texas Press Association. Phil, like John Rumbach in Indiana, was preparing for a major upgrade of the Messenger’s workflow system. That’s where the two papers’ similarities ended. At least, that’s what I thought at the time.

Leaving Knoxville ten minutes before the biggest storm in years, I made it to DFW in time to get off the plane and make the hour drive from Dallas to Decatur. Returning to DFW, during rush hour, would take almost three hours.

Almost as if I’d returned to Jasper, I picked up a copy of Wise County Messenger in Phil’s office and was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Lots of community news, balanced by incredible photography.

Joe Duty, photographer at the Messenger, spent the afternoon showing me how he works out of his two studios. They’d even converted a large garage in the newspaper building into a third studio. I loved it when Joe told me how children line up around the block to get their picture taken for an annual Halloween costume contest. One wall of the studio is covered with photos and signatures of celebrities and locals who have dropped by to have their pictures taken. While I was there, word spread throughout the newsroom that Bret Michaels’ tour bus was filling up at a gas station in Decatur. Joe was gone. If a celebrity was in town, he was getting the picture.

Phil showed me the newly remodeled building, introduced me to his staff and hosted several meetings during the two days I was in Decatur. We met for an hour with the advertising staff to discuss how to increase the sales of online advertising. It was a great conversation. We met with the editors and designers to look at options for new editorial and classified workflow systems.

He even showed me where he eventually planned to put a pool table and pinball machine. “I want this to be someplace that people enjoy working,” Phil told me.

Upon leaving Decatur to head toward DFW and the Louisiana Press Association Convention, I realized that I had been privileged to visit two newspapers with hearts for their communities and a passion for creating quality products. Both are making major investments in equipment and training. Both are winning more awards than they can fit on their walls. The next time someone tells me that newspapers are dying, I’m going to point them toward Indiana and Texas.

Sign Up Now for the Institute of Newspaper Technology

For the 14th year, I will direct the Institute of Newspaper Technology in Knoxville, Tennessee, September 29 - October 1. The top names in training in the publishing world will be on hand to lead classes for everyone from the novice designer to the most experienced paginator and IT professional. For more information, visit

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