Saturday, May 15, 2010

Back Buying Ink By the Barrel

Greetings from Junction City, Kansas.

I have taken up residence and work here as editor and publisher of the Daily Union, as well as publisher of the weekly Wamego Smoke Signal — with responsibility for a printing plant to boot.

I’m happy there is a printing press, and that the papers aren’t printed elsewhere. I love being able to walk to the back of the building and hear that press running, though mostly that occurs at night — and with luck I mainly work days. But there is something about a press on site that is reassuring to me. We really do buy our ink by the barrel and newsprint by the truckload.

Since 1888, the Daily Union has been owned for four generations, by the same family. The newspaper’s lineage goes back to 1861, when it was known as the Republican Union. Back then being Republican meant opposing secession in a state that was fractured by the issue of slavery. The northeast part of the state tended to be more pro-Union than not, though that was certainly not a unanimous sentiment. The paper’s politics continue to be progressive, which means I will fit in. What a relief.

It certainly is nice to work for a family owned newspaper again, where the sole motive for existence isn’t profit. Making money is important, of course. You don’t stay in business long if you don’t make a profit. But, I maintain, you don’t stay in the newspaper business long if that is your sole motive, because you end up sacrificing quality for short-term gain, especially when times are lean. Ultimately that costs a newspaper its readers, so it is a self-defeating process.

That has happened at newspapers across America — big, medium and small. Newspapers are thinner, staffs are smaller, the amount of local news produced is considerably less and — guess what? Fewer people are reading local newspapers. Shocking isn’t it?

Small-town newspapers have a unique franchise, in that usually they are the sole provider of news about the area they cover. As long as they do their job, I believe community newspapers will be around for a long time, even though they do face considerable challenges — the chief of which is whether young people still feel that connection to their community that makes them care about what happens in their schools, city councils and the traditional areas that newspapers cover. Metro newspapers face different and larger challenges because big-city residents have so many more outlets for news, and often are only interested in what goes on in their own small enclave of the city in which they live.

As I wrote in a piece that was published in this weekend’s Daily Union, “I have come to Kansas because I believe this family owned newspaper and this area offer an opportunity to practice the type of journalism I am best suited for: grassroots, close to the ground, no layers between me and you — the readers.”

Then there is the terrain. This is lovely country, rolling hills with limestone outcroppings and lots of trees along the rivers and streams. This part of Kansas is in the Flint Hills, not the wheat-filled flat part those of us unfamiliar with the state usually think the entire place appears. It is similar it to how folks unfamiliar with Texas believe the whole state looks like a dusty, cactus-filled movie set — when East Texas, with its pine trees and red-dirt roads, looks more like it belongs in the Deep South.

The weather in Junction City now is lovely — morning temperatures in the 50s and highs barely reaching 70. Summer exists in northeast Kansas, but it doesn’t last five months, thank goodness. Winter will be a challenge, as one reader mentioned, wondering if my Yankee blood has permanently thinned after four decades behind the Pine Curtain. I’ll find out in six months or so, I suppose.

I plan to continue to write on this site weekly. Sometimes it will be the same piece that appears in the Daily Union, and it will be identified as such. I’ve been writing a weekly newspaper column for nearly 28 years, and one reason I started this online blog was I was loath to quit, even after losing a print venue. Sometimes I will write a separate piece, such as this one, just for the Web site. Sometimes I’ll tweak the print piece.

Regardless, I’ll be here every week, Lord willing. I hope you will, too.


  1. Hello Gary
    It's good to hear that you are settled in. It seems to be a setting that you'll fit into comfortably. I look forward to reading more.
    Warmest regards

  2. Thanks, John. I appreciate the kind words.

  3. Welcome to Kansas!

    I just found your blog and will be tuning in every week. You write beautifully.

    I write a weekly column, "Flyover People," for the Emporia Gazette, and post snapshots of Kansas at

    I hope you find Kansas to your liking and that the people here treat you well.

    Cheryl Unruh

  4. It sounds like a lovely setting for doing some writing. I can't wait to visit.