A statement from the real founder of The Vinton Eagle

Vinton’s local rumor mill was going full speed Tuesday when the news broke throughout the community that The Vinton Eagle – the newspaper that my wife and I created from scratch in 2005 – had been sold to its archrival, the Community Media Group, better known locally as the Cedar Valley Daily Times and Vinton Livewire.

Three or four years ago, this news would have been personally devastating to us. After all, we brought the Eagle into existence five years ago because so much of the community was dissatisfied with the local coverage the Times was offering.

But now, literally two years to the day since Angie and I (and my mother, who had worked for us three years for free) were summarily removed from our positions at the Eagle, this news was welcomed. After two years of watching the Eagle go increasingly off-course, it will survive.

I was never a businessman; I acknowledge that fully. I was journalist. But over time, I brought in partners who came in with the idea that they would handle the business end of things while leaving the journalism decisions to Angie and me and our staff.

But somewhere along the way, things changed. While between us, Angie and I had nearly 40 years of journalism experience, that became secondary to our partners who had more years of experience – as readers, we were told. Soon, every decision we made was open for discussion.

I endorsed a candidate for president in my column who my partners didn’t support for various reasons. I recognized the importance of sports to our readership, despite the fact that my partners’ friends didn’t like sports. I refused to write fluff pieces for certain businesses with the hope that they might advertise with us. At one point, our morals and ethics were questioned because of our religious and political beliefs and the way we were raised. My free time also came under fire as I coached our high school’s struggling swimming programs.

And while all of this was going on, I was beginning to see the handwriting on the wall for the newspaper business. The declining economy was especially tough on small businesses. And when things get tight financially for small businesses, one of the first things to get cut is advertising. Advertising is what drives the newspaper industry, and local advertisers were afraid to change what they had been doing.

So I began actively searching for either investors with deep pockets or outright buyers for the Eagle who would allow us to continue to operate in the way our readers wanted us to. While there was interest, the faltering U.S. economy going into 2008 also affected these potential investors. A couple said “get back to us in a year…,” but that is as close as it came. At one point, I even approached CMG about it, but they were not interested.

In early 2008, we were thrown another curve. Marengo Publishing, the printing plant we had used since our inception, had to change its printing schedule. Suddenly, we were faced with the possibility that we would have to move the Eagle’s publication from Wednesday to Friday. So, I began a search for another printing plant. I spent the better part of two weeks researching the situation, looking at costs, production times and delivery and prepared a report I presented the morning of Tuesday, March 4, 2008.

But the meeting turned out vastly different. Instead of discussing printing options, I was presented with a letter from my partners that, in effect fired me as publisher, while I retained my 40 percent ownership in the company. Among the reasons cited, it informed me that my compensation for being the founder, publisher and editor of the Eagle was too high – even though part of it was for my wife, who worked 20 hours a week designing pages on top of her full-time job.

Within 24 hours of our dismissal, our personal desks were cleaned out and the contents thrown into boxes. And the locks to building were changed.

I tried to convince my partners that we still needed to look into a sale, before our losses got any bigger, but they did not want to listen. They were still convinced that removing me as publisher would have investors and advertisers lined up at the front door; it was just a matter of time.

In the meantime, Angie and I moved on. I began graduate school. For some time, we looked very strongly at moving back to Kansas and just forgetting the whole thing. And, after six months of watching the Eagle we built go off in another direction, we signed over our shares in the Eagle in September 2008.

Over the last year and a half, it was apparent the Eagle was not growing as anticipated. There were fewer and fewer ads. The supposedly crippling cost of my compensation suddenly went by the boards as three more people were hired to do the jobs Angie, my mother and I did for a lot less money.

When I heard the news about the sale to the Times, I was at once relieved, but not at all surprised. I was sorry to see that some of the people who had started with us at the Eagle in 2005 had lost their jobs and had been pretty much blindsided with the news. But, as I was once told, it was nothing personal, it was just business.

But I was also relieved to know that The Vinton Eagle will have the support and the resources to go forward.

For Angie and me there is a touch of irony in what has transpired, but at the same time we are pleased to see that the paper we poured so much of our lives into will have a chance to survive.

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4 Responses to “A statement from the real founder of The Vinton Eagle”

  1. Audrey Says:

    Wow, this was a shock!
    I enjoyed reading your explination – just like I enjoyed reading your paper when you were a part of it. I didn’t know any of the people you were writing about in The Eagle – but it was still interesting to me. Too bad some others didn’t realize that. I remember you telling about long nights working on stories or fighting with computers just to make print deadlines.
    Glad to be in contact with you and Angie again. Love hearing about Sage and your other activities.
    Best of luck to you and Angie!
    ay

  2. theresa jones Says:

    I live in Florida. When the Eagle came to my attention and I started reading, I immediately subscribed. I loved reading the paper and news from my ‘home town’…it was a personal touch that you don’t get in many papers. Jeff’s views on things were refreshing and even though I may not have agreed with some ideas, it was interesting to hear a different review. Isn’t that part of the educational process? And, Jeff was at liberty since he published the paper. Besides, if I didn’t like, I didn’t have to subscribe. Last year I dropped my subscription. It was no longer enjoyable to read…if fact, it was tedious to read. Yes, it saddens me to hear that there were some who lost their jobs. But, the writing was on the wall last year when I saw the paper going down hill….Vinton has lost a ‘good thing’. Small towns need ‘good things’.

  3. Kathleen Van Steenhuyse Says:

    I was saddened to hear about the sale of the Eagle just as I had been shocked by your removal, Jeff, from your own paper two years ago! I hope that the new owners will understand that a small town thrives on its network of communication and caring. The local newpapers are a big part of that communication piece because they are committed to the communities they serve in ways that the Gazette or the Courier or the Register are never going to be invested. The newest experiment was the Daily Eagle on-line–this was just starting to pick up a daily readership of people who were beginning to “count” on it as a resource for up-to-the-minute information. This was an example of how the convergence in the industry could still serve the literate public, could still use journalistic standards, research, verified sources, and ethical reporting. To this newspaper reader, the opposite is the blog approach described in the Mark Becker trial article in today’s CR GAZETTE, which favors the radio sports reporting approach of “just-in-time” disgorging that that reporter cited as her vision of the “future of journalism.” Good grief! I hope that the new owners use the on-line version to augment the weekly journal, and that excellence and accuracy in serving the community will be the goals. Best wishes to you and to your family.

  4. Beth Van Note-Climer Says:

    As a former resident of Vinton now living in Florida, I enjoyed reading the Vinton Eagle. It was a fun way to keep in touch with what’s going on in the area. Sad to see it go!
    Best of Luck to you, and your family

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