By STEVE SOUTHWELL
This week’s newspaper will be our last one for now*. The Lewisville Texan Journal is returning focus to our digital roots.
More than two years ago, we took a chance that Lewisville would support another newspaper dedicated exclusively to coverage of our city. Financially that decision did not work out. We are out of cash. While the $1,500 per week or so that it cost us to put this together was not a lot of money, relatively speaking, it lost more than I can continue to part with.
The amount of work I’ve put in for the past couple of years, added to my full-time day job, put me at 60-hour-plus work weeks and little time to rest and recharge. Researching and writing the stories of Lewisville each week was my top priority, to the detriment of my ability and time availability to try to sell advertisements and subscriptions.
When I started writing news for The Lewisville Texan Journal, I did so because I believed that our city was not being well served in our massively consolidated media market. The big newspaper would send someone over here for elections and maybe for a few minutes if someone got shot or if there was a big scandal. The other newspaper had one or two original articles per week pertaining to Lewisville, and the rest was filler from other cities in the area served by that chain.
Lewisville Texans deserve better.
We think the competition made us both better.
I can hold my head high because I believe we delivered a better paper. We became Lewisville’s most trusted news source. We delivered a free newspaper each week with the top stories and in–depth reporting on the stories that matter to Lewisville Texans.
We have done our best to provide the information for voters to make their best informed choices. We have analyzed numbers, dug deeper and asked the question beyond the questions. We have investigated businesses, governmental entities and political candidates.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve been threatened and run off. We’ve had people lie to us and about us. We have had to file complaints and fight attempts by government entities to withhold information. We’ve had advertisers come and go as well as subscribers.
Our newspaper stands have been vandalized and even thrown out. When our factual reporting threatens someone’s worldview, we’ve seen them lash out. We’ve had to write about dangerous criminals and their deeds. At times, I’ve had to keep a gun handy here in my office or carry one with me just to be on the safe side.
It’s a weird business model for news. Most of our readers expect to read it for free. We believe it should be free and that it’s better when it’s free. But nothing is really free.
Advertising needed to pick up the cost. We found that it was not only hard for us to find the time but hard to find and hire someone with the ability.
Adding insult to injury, we were constantly inundated with requests from businesses of all sizes — including huge corporations — for free publicity. “We don’t have a budget for any advertising,” said the hired PR flack repping the national franchise and presumably getting paid several times more than a journalist for it.
We’ve had our articles plagiarized and photos lifted by content farms. The worst was when someone stole one of our articles and rewrote the headline for political reasons to say the exact opposite of what the article was about.
We’ve had scammers try to get classified ads, then dispute the charges. This week, we had someone trying to place an ad to run a scam on our readers. We’ve had some advertisers just skip out on paying.
The hours have been a beatdown. Sometime between Monday morning and Friday morning, I tried to get in about 40 hours for my employer. Monday through Thursday nights were meetings, interviews, research and writing stories. Friday afternoon through about 10 or 11 p.m., we put the finishing touches on stories and got them into layout for the print edition.
Saturday mornings I was in my office by 4 a.m. to get the papers ready for distribution and take care of getting stories online and writing paychecks. Then by about 5:30 a.m., I was out on one of our four delivery routes delivering the papers to homes and our newspaper stands. My late route ended at 9 a.m., and I tried to take a nap for a few hours before the live news show at 2 p.m.
Sunday afternoons were for bookkeeping, office cleanup, reordering supplies and updating circulation records. Somehow in between all of that, I dealt with advertising, circulation issues, computer and network issues, website problems and personnel.
People have asked me at times how I manage all of that. It’s pretty simple: I don’t have much of a private life. My house is falling apart. My cars all need repairs. My lawn is neglected. The laundry piles up. You don’t want to see my kitchen. My desk at home is piled high with things that need filing or tending to.
Despite all of that, it’s been rewarding and I have no regrets.
I’ve met and become friends with some of the best Lewisville Texans. The people whose stories we’ve told over the years have enriched and inspired us all. I’ve even come to like some of the people who we wrote unflattering stories about.
We’ve had a front–row seat to the inner workings of local government. We’ve had great conversations both on- and off-record with leaders in government, business and nonprofits. We’ve been able to chronicle the progress that our city is making at becoming what it wants to be in its Vision 2025 plan.
I have been able to work with other professionals here and have learned tremendous amounts from them. Brandon Cooper helped us get started. Adam Schrader lit a fire under me to improve my writing to avoid the judgement of his red pen. And for the last year, our managing editor Christina Ulsh has not only helped me in polishing my craft, but she has provided balance, written some darn good pieces, made our paper look better and managed interns and freelancers.
Our readership has grown, and we’ve made, in my humble opinion, a better product each and every week. I have no doubts that our role in the community has borne fruit. We’ve connected nonprofits with volunteers and donors. We’ve connected citizens with their government, voters with their candidates, businesses with their customers, and residents with each other and their community’s events and opportunities.
We are at a point in our nation’s public discourse where the comment section of most media outlets’ articles ends up being a cesspit of the ignorant and uncivil. But we’re continually pleased to see how mature, thoughtful and courteous our readers are. Our readers are the best.
We’re touched that over the time we’ve been doing this, we’ve received letters and cards thanking us. We’ve had cases of beer and bottles of liquor show up. We even had a barbershop quartet show up to serenade us once.
We have had our friends volunteer to help us out when we needed a hand delivering papers or editing. Some have even chipped in money to help us pay the bills. Many of our subscribers voluntarily paid much more than the standard monthly price.
We’ve been able to attend fancy events and sometimes go backstage. People have invited us to their homes and businesses, let us ride along with them, walk beside them, dine with them and talk to them.
I want to give my sincerest thanks to all of our subscribers, donors, advertisers and investors for all that you have done to make the past two years as a print newspaper possible. I wish I had been able to make the outcome different.
Over the next few days, we’ll be reaching out to advertisers and subscribers to process any refunds that are due.
Most importantly, I want to thank my family. They have endured my absences and worked so hard with me to try to keep this going. They’ve endured too many early mornings and late nights to count. We could not have achieved what we have were it not for their help.
We are not sure exactly what the future holds for The Lewisville Texan Journal. Perhaps it will be resurrected as a crowd-funded nonprofit. I’m going to personally make sure that our website continues. I want to continue to write.
Things are going to change, but we will continue to serve Lewisville Texans. Stay tuned.
Update: 11/22/2017: We’re back – sorta.