“We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
A newspaper is like army food. Most everyone complains about it.
Working in this business for 50 years, I’ve learned that readers can be tough critics. Even when the daily newspaper business was strong and vibrant, loaded with reporters and editors and lots of news, there were always complaints.
The Star-Telegram was for a long time a damn fine newspaper and those of who worked there were proud of it, but one night at a dinner gathering a guest seated next to me turned and asked: “Why can’t the Star-Telegram be more like The New York Times?”
She found her local paper wanting. We were not good enough despite Pulitzer-Prize winning journalism and nationwide recognition for a quality news product. We contributed to the community with money and in-kind services that amounted to millions of dollars annually.
Over the last few years the crescendo of complaints about our local daily has reached a fever pitch. Staff cuts continue to plague the newspaper – and when reporters leave, local news coverage suffers.
I sympathize with the Star-Telegram. It’s in a tough business these days and its parent company, McClatchy, is burdened with enormous debt.
So, after listening to constant complaints about the local newspaper, I went to the bullpen for a favorite quote from the late Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines: “We have a strategic plan. It’s called doing things.”
As much as I would like to fill the local news void by adding reporters at the Business Press our model at present does not allow for us to do it on the scale needed.
So, I adopted the Kelleher philosophy and decided to do something, not just complain: I founded a 501(c)(3) called The Fort Worth Press in order to ask people to put up or shut up, to put their money where their mouths are.
I’ve started a nonprofit to hire a newsroom and improve local news reporting. It will require donations from foundations, corporations and individuals to succeed.
There is no monetary or business connection between the nonprofit and the Business Press. We will make no money from it.
I love news, as do most of my colleagues, and I want to support local journalism in a form that has become increasingly popular. There are reportedly 180 independently funded news organizations in the country today.
We are still forming our board of directors and have an application pending with the Institute for Nonprofit News. It has stringent requirements in addition to the rules and regulations expected of a nonprofit and monitored by the IRS.
When the money is raised – $500,000 to $1 million – The Fort Worth Press will make its news available at no cost to anyone and anybody and any news organization.
One of our editors, Paul Harral, will leave the Business Press to run it. He has decades of experience coordinating news coverage at major news organizations.
And who will we recruit to staff this nonprofit? There are a number of out-of-work former Star-Telegram journalists who create a talent pool. And we are also sitting on more than 30 resumes from folks who are young, idealistic, hungry, and who want to be journalists. This product will be digital – not print – and we need a new generation of reporters, editors, and photographers to row this boat.
In an anthology of his work, the late sports writer and probably best horse racing writer of all time, Bill Nack, wrote that many of his colleagues went into the business of sportswriting, he imagined, to attend games. His motivation was different:
“I went into the business of attending games in order to write.”
That would also be me. I went into journalism to write. I was an English major in college, not a journalism grad. Along the way in this business I discovered the joy of reporting, respect for the public’s right to know, a deep affection for the First Amendment, and a love of the role of the press as a watchdog on government.
I’ve also been given the opportunity to build news organizations, first for a publicly held company and then on my own. That’s my role in this. I’ve established the 501(c)(3) with my own finances and now I can build the organization needed to cover Fort Worth and Tarrant County.
The proposition is simple. Either we will raise the money or we won’t.
In the meantime, amid the cacophony of cries for more local news, we have set sail on our strategic plan: “It’s called doing things.”
Richard Connor is president and publisher of the Fort Worth Business Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org