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Small-town Weekly: Correcting The Record

July 2024
3min read

I have read John Cole’s article “If You Ran a Small-Town Weekly” in your October/November issue with outraged mortification. I am in the position of the man who called the editor to say: “You know that story you ran yesterday about me making a million dollars last year in the stock market? Well, there were some things wrong with it. It wasn’t the stock market, it was retail clothing. And it wasn’t last year, it was ten years ago. And it wasn’t a million, it was three million. And it wasn’t me, k was my uncle. And he didn’t make it, he lost it.”

The Cole article is a continuous fabrication that violates my history, goals, character, and credibility and does disservice to my chosen profession. In the single page you permit me, it is impossible to refute point by point a four-page feature article. Briefly then:

John never “ran” a small-town weekly, let alone mine. I was full owner, editor, and “runner” of the Kennebunk (Maine) Star and majority owner with the same titles of its metamorphosis, the York County Coast Star , now owned by The New York Times . With photocopies and letters I have convinced you of these things.

John misrepresents my investment in all ways (total $30,000, all mortgaged, not $100,000; down payment $5,000, not $1,000; bank mortgage note $5,000, not $100,000; etc.); number of starting employees (2, not 5); starting circulation (total 1,280, not 3,000); paid subscribers (200, not 2,000); coverage area (2 towns, not 5); area population (6,700, not 20,000); size of the newspaper when I bought it (4 pages, not 8); and almost all other details in similar proportions. He says the former owners misrepresented things to me (they didn’t); that all employees walked off the job the first day (they didn’t even contemplate it); and on arid on—too many for this space.

Most insulting is that John totally ignores my role at the newspaper, the one he claims for himself. Throughout he claims complete editorial responsibility, although not only was I editor, shaping policy, but I did more writing of all sorts—reports, features, editorials—and more copy editing. Since he had no stake whatsoever in the business, his agonizing over his personal financial risk is fantasy.

Most degrading are the preposterous references to my prior career, enthusiasms, and methods. I am repeatedly represented as some kind of wheelerdealer racetrack frequenter and smalltown business entrepreneur. I was, among other things, a writer, Navy fighter pilot, head of overseas interests for a trade association, manager of large mills, and finally assistant to the president of a diversified company whose stock was traded on the New York Exchange, before I quit in 1958, at age thirty-five, to buy the Star . I paid the asking price, much more than it was worth, and never offered less. That is my proud, if naive, custom. The sales agreement and bank loan John calls the convoluted result of my wheeling and dealing was the simplest of documents and was retired in ways he contradicts. He even goes so far as to say we had equal money problems because we both had two children, although he knew my three very well.

I am mystified by these erroneous transgressions, particularly so because John enjoys his reputation as reporter and defender of the truth and because we have called one another friends for over a generation. He has written generously of me and my career in the past.

More grievous to others, the aspiring weekly people as well as the regulars, is Cole’s dismissal of weekly journalism of record as a disappointing, picayune affair, rather beneath his notice. While in practice it is all too often (like other forms of journalism) neither ennobling nor vital, it can be so, more, perhaps—more personally, more directly—than almost any of the others. If one does it right, one lives beset with the hardest kind of unrelenting work, dealing with issues and ethics of intimate concern to one’s readers. If the arena is small and the scale is modest, the weekly editor has unique immediate effect on the people and turf he defends, and he does it without support or reference to other opinion, because only he takes journalistic notice of what only he can affect.

During John’s experience with the Star (the first two years and five months of my ownership), it grew from babyhood to toddlership. Seventeen years later its size had grown from 4 pages to 80, its circulation from 1,280 to 15,000, its coverage area from 2 towns to 15, its gross from printing and newspaper from $23,400 to $1,750,000, all under circumstances of extreme severity even in weekly journalism. It became one of the largest and perhaps the finest weekly of record in America, with awards and honors to defend the title. To have it dismissed, and my role discarded, in a national publication of historical reputation, adds injury to the many degradations. I wish John’s article could all be somehow erased from the record.

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