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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Richard Connor: Here we are, still chugging along after 30 years

The 30th time is more of a charm than the third time.

Today’s issue celebrates the 30th year of business for the Fort Worth Business Press.

I’ve purchased the newspaper and its other publications three times, and owning it has provided lesson after lesson in the rewards and also the trials and tribulations of small business. Let’s just say it’s not for the faint-hearted.

I have been in journalism in Fort Worth for 32 years and they have all been memorable and rewarding. I came here as publisher of the Star-Telegram, which at the time had 1,500 employees and was about to open a $70 million printing plant that was the most advanced in the nation, maybe the world.

We grew circulation to over 300,000, steadily increased revenues and profits, won about every journalism award you can name, and increased our participation in the community to a degree never before reached.

Those of us who were there at the time now know it was the Golden Age of newspapers and daily journalism.

Over my time here I have watched the Star-Telegram shrink and the city grow. Parallel growth would have been a better combination.

But times change.

Consistent through all these years has been the Business Press. We just keep chugging along – though not without bumps along the way.

When Carolyn Ashford came to town to launch the Business Press she had my attention from the start. She has written a column in this week’s paper about her experiences in Fort Worth. Also in this edition is a column by Associate Editor Paul Harral about our efforts at the Star-Telegram to produce a weekly business newspaper to compete with the Business Press. Ours was a good paper that ultimately fell to the knife of out-of-town corporate media owners.

Ashford and her paper gained my attention quickly. First, they put copies of the paper on all the buses taking folks to and from the Colonial Golf Tournament. Smart marketing and promotion, I thought. Then the business weekly began beating the Star-Telegram covering commercial real estate, even though we had a much bigger staff at our metropolitan daily paper.

“Who cares about commercial real estate?” I would scoff. Turns out businesses cared – and still do. Commercial real estate is one of the essential coverage areas for a business newspaper.

The competition made us better, but we learned week after week about a form of journalism we did not fully understand. We are still learning how different weekly business journalism is from daily newspapering.

Ultimately, Ashford sold the paper to some folks from out of town and later I bought it in partnership with investors. Then I bought out the investors. I sold the paper in 2007 and learned one of my most vital small-business lessons. I took a personal note on much of the proceeds. I received just one payment. One.

The then-parent company of the Business Press went bankrupt and I had to bid in an auction to buy back the paper.

Over the years I have had three sets of local investors, all of whom came forward because they wanted to preserve local, Fort Worth journalism. They kept us going when times were lean and I believe that not only I, personally, but also our readers and the entire community will always be in their debt.

We have provided jobs for countless individuals and a valuable learning environment for our employees. Many of those who started out with us have gone on to terrific careers in the news business and other fields as well. All of our employees over the years have worked tirelessly and efficiently to produce a weekly newspaper with sometimes limited resources and always with fewer employees than anyone else in our business.

Through it all, our commitment to the community has never wavered. The value of our donations of in-kind services to nonprofits exceeds $250,000-plus per year. Our community awards program is unmatched, not just locally but nationally.

We have always believed it’s important to not only work here but also to live here as a community-oriented corporate citizen.

It’s probably a cliché and definitely an understatement these days to say that the news business is challenging. But of course all business is challenging. The digital age has pushed us in good directions and, as in the case of Facebook, some dangerous ones. We have plunged headlong into social media, particularly in the last year, but at our core we are still a newspaper – a weekly newspaper.

My career includes work at some of the best daily newspapers in the country but my heart’s desire was always to own a small, weekly newspaper (my plan, I must confess, did not include buying the same newspaper three times).

Advertising supports this business and without our clients we would not be here 30 years later. Some of those advertisers have been customers for the same reason we had local investors. They are friends and care about local journalism and the community.

When we started our annual event called “Great Women of Texas,” it was somewhat tongue-in-cheek because the name seemed, well, slightly overblown. But we are in Texas, after all, and we do things big in Texas. Turns out it was not an oversized moniker. We found that not only are there countless great women to be honored in and around Fort Worth but also great companies and outstanding individuals from all walks of life who are deserving of recognition. We are continually humbled to be in their midst.

This is simply a great place to live and work and, for us at the Business Press, a great place to connect with the endlessly fascinating array of people who allow us to tell their stories and who continue to support a locally owned, locally operated newspaper committed to community journalism.

We plan to just keep chugging along these tracks.

Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at rconnor@bizpress.net

Richard Connor
Richard Connor is the owner and CEO/Publisher of DRC Media, the parent company of the Fort Worth Business Press. he also owns newspapers in Virginia. Mr. Connor held a number of corporate media executive positions before founding his own company. He is an award-winning columnist and at one time wrote a weekly column on national politics for CQ Politics, the online version of Washington, D.C.-based Congressional Quarterly.

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