Musings: Small-town newspaperman enthusiastic as new team begins stewardship of Sun
September 28, 2017 · Jake Krob
We aren't just owners of your newspaper.
And I'm incredibly excited for a new team - including me and the people you know - taking over that caretaker role.
I'm staying on as publisher, the role I've held since our company started with one newspaper in 2001.
As you read in a news story this week, Woodward Communications has purchased your local newspaper. My business partner, Stu Clark, and I have sold West Branch Communications, which includes the West Branch Times, West Liberty Index, Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun, Marion Times, Solon Economist, North Liberty Leader and Linn News-Letter.
The name of our company - West Branch Communications - says a lot about our values. So does the name of your newspaper's new owner - Woodward Communications.
Stu and I chose "West Branch" because the business is rooted in Herbert Hoover's hometown. We bought the West Branch Times in 2001 when the owners approached Stu about a sale (he owned the neighboring Tipton newspaper, after all). Stu heard from the small-town grapevine (I'm a Tipton native) about my desire to own a newspaper.
So we bought a paper together, with no plan to grow beyond it, and got down to business.
Then "mom-and-pops" in nearby communities approached us.
So we bought another, then another.
We weren't strategic about it from a business sense. Simply, the newspapers were put up for sale and they needed a new steward - from the West Liberty Index, born in 1868, to the Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun, which has its roots in 1869 but was born in 1975 (Stu and I are the longest serving stewards of the Sun).
Woodward, too, has a history of stewardship.
Based in Dubuque, it's rooted in family, with Fred W. Woodward starting work as a newspaper carrier at the age of 10. He worked his way up, acquiring majority ownership of the newspaper in the early 1900s.
Today, the company is 100 percent employee owned. The Woodward family remains involved, and the "family" includes hundreds of employee owners who work tirelessly for their communities. I've gotten to know some of them over the past few years, and they are like me and you. They care about Eastern Iowa. They work hard to continue to make this a great place to live, work and play.
The employee owners of Woodard recognize they are stewards of their newspapers.
And that's the reason for this sale.
Our communities deserve new stewards. So do our employees.
Since the Internet's widespread arrival in the 1990s to the birth of the iPhone (the pocket computer, really) 10 years ago, times have changed exponentially - not just for newspapers, but for small businesses in general.
That's why this small-town newspaperman is excited to join the Woodward team.
They know their stuff. They are filled with employee owners who give a darn, and will work their tails off for you. They fit what we've become.
I'll serve as group publisher, overseeing the weekly newspapers and other publications that Stu and I have been stewards of for many years, starting with the West Branch Times 16 years ago.
In this new era of stewardship, I'm thankful for you. For those who continue to subscribe and read. For businesses that continue to recognize small-town newspapers are an effective, efficient and affordable way to market their products and services.
I thank you all. Big time.
In this transition, I'm grateful and thankful for a team of employees - totaling around 100 over the years - who've cared deeply about their communities and have worked tirelessly for them. I'm fortunate to call them colleagues and friends!
I'm blessed by a marvelous spouse who's supported me all along - through the opportunities and challenges. She's kept me grounded. There's no better partner in life.
We're thankful, too, to be operating in towns like Mount Vernon-Lisbon, where engaged citizens make this place great. When our kids learned of the sale, they had one request (okay, demand): We can't move!
Absolutely not, we replied. This is our home. Always will be.
Finally, I'm pumped that your newspapers' new owners are, in fact, stewards of a rich history of telling the stories of our communities.