Well, this is one heck of a way to start out my term as TPA president.
First, we have to cancel the convention in January and I get elected via Zoom – which was okay, but different and kind of weird.
Then, in February, Texas gets hit by the worst snowstorm in a decade and for the first time in my 45-year career the presses don’t roll and I don’t get any of my three newspapers out. A printed paper, that is. We still got digital versions out, like a lot of you did.
As the hometown newspaper in three East Texas cities, people rely on us to keep them informed with our printed pages, as well as postings on our websites and Facebook pages. Sure, the city, school and police all have social media platforms and they are very proud of them – but if you look at the numbers you see that most people still look to us, their longtime news source, for reliable information.
While the snow and ice knocked out power at the printing plant in Henderson, we pushed on and the hometown newspaper went 100% digital for one week, giving everyone access to the paper free of charge. We apologized to our many readers who were not comfortable with our digital format and explained that we had no alternative but to go this route. And we assured them we would be back the next week with our more familiar format – complete with ink smudges on their fingers and all.
I asked how others around the state handled this most unusual climatology calamity. Knowing Texas newspaper men and women are good at handling challenges, I found their solutions interesting and inspiring. I will file them way for future use if and when this happens again.
• Chad Engbrock said his papers were able to print but were “a day late for all of our publications in Collin County, North Texas. Our e-editions went up on time.”
He said they experienced rolling blackouts until Thursday, resulting in a press issue for several days. He had to relocate his production department to an employee’s home that had power the whole time.
• Tracy Mesler reported they were able to ship the Nocona News to their printer in Wichita Falls on schedule. They never lost power to town. “Thankfully the entire town is on one circuit with the old hospital in the county, plus fire, police, etc.”
They picked up the paper a day or two late, but their digital edition went online on time.
• Cyndy Slovak-Barton said she took the Hays Free Press digital, but they planned to “put out a special public notice edition, which we are printing on tabloid paper in house on our copier and mailing these to cities, school districts, attorneys, etc. We might only mail out 50 copies of this, but I figure that will help. On the back page, we are going to run the column regarding transparency in government and snow pictures from readers.”
Like everyone else, she said they “made sure to put an explanation on page one about WHY we were sending this out.”
• Ken Cooke said he was able to print the Fredericksburg Standard “a day late and currently waiting on physical
copy delivery. Our local drivers will have to wait until tomorrow (Friday) to attempt delivery as roads are getting bad again. My brother in Rockdale went e-edition only after visiting with Cyndy.”
• Lynette Sowell said the Cove Leader Press “went digital-only on Tuesday. We have power at our homes and offices once again, but it’s very dire here in our community. A similar story I’m sure many of you share.
“We are working today at the office on our pages for 2/19 and it remains to be seen if we will print, but we will be ready like usual. Some normalcy feels good right now.
“My thoughts and prayers are with you all as we keep on keepin’ on.”
• Stephen Hemelt said The Port Arthur News “printed a day late in Port Arthur and maintained on-schedule web publishing. Our problem now is finding no one working at the post offices to handle delivery in most of Jefferson County.”
• Sarah Beth Owen of The Whitewright Sun said she “didn’t print, no way we could have, couldn’t even turn on a computer to write the paper. Our whole town was without power and running water for more than 3 days... power is back (hoping it stays that way) but water is barely flowing and unusable...
“I’m going to print this week”s and next week’s news in one paper next week hopefully...”
• Mary Judson at the Port Aransas South Jetty said: “We published online yesterday and offered it for free. We got power and internet restored last night and are putting pages together today to send to the printer. Newsstand copies will not be free.
“Grateful for a webmaster and printer who work with us!”
• Elaine Kolodziej of the Wilson County News/La Vernia News said: “Our two papers went online just one day later than usual. Also making digital free. Our print is still unable to get to their plant, but we will have a print edition even it is several days late. They will be mailed to our subscribers.
“For the newsstand sales, we will insert two weeks into one to save on distribution costs. I think readers will understand.”
While I saved a lot of money by not printing three newspapers that snowy week, there really is nothing better than the printed page. I love the sound the paper makes as you snap open a newly printed issue. And I even love the smell of the paper and ink.
I know it sounds odd, but you have to understand – I ran a printing plant for 20 years. I could sit in my office and tell by the slight vibration in the concrete floor if all was running well or not. And going back and scooping up a paper as it came off the press – ink still wet – was a thrill. Still is when I have the chance to visit the Henderson plant.
Once again during this legislative session there are some legislators in Austin who want to take legals and public notices out of our newspapers and place them on government-run websites. They claim it saves taxpayers money. The misguided legislators supporting this really want to minimize transparency, or hurt the newspaper industry because they or a friend or a campaign contributor of theirs don’t like what we wrote about them or that we didn’t take up their cause.
I invite everyone to join the Texas Press Association’s Legislative Advisory Committee and help make a difference by calling your state senators and representatives when called on by Mike Hodges and Donnis Baggett, who are at the front lines at the Capitol trying to kill bad bills and push good bills pertaining to open meetings and open records and helping to keep public notices and legals in our hometown newspapers.
Mike Hodges reported that TPA is taking the offensive on these matters. He reported that “three bills have been filed on our behalf: HB-1360 (restores public notice in newspaper of tax rate and calculation), HB-1416 (fixes “skeleton crew” delays in records requests), and HB-1810 (requires open records data to be presented in a searchable/sortable manner). More of our priority bills are expected to be filed soon.”
Thank you to all of you who, as Lynette Sowell put it, “keep on keepin’ on.”