DAWSON, AL– William Thomas Rountree has a tough job. I know what he is up against. I’ve also owned and published local weekly newspapers. In fact that was my job for 39 years.
While weeklies do not face the same problems as the large daily papers in major cities, once a Walmart comes to town most of the small town businesses run by your friends and neighbors face bankruptcy.
The products small local stores buy to sell arrive in a few cardboard boxes. Walmart, with its massive chain of superstores, receive its products from sprawling warehouses, delivered by 18-wheelers. The small local stores just can’t compete. Once Walmart has closed all the competition down their prices can go up. Is that their strategy? Why not?
While on the road I’ve also discovered Walmart is starting to open stand-alone supermarkets when they decide a community can’t support a full scale superstore. In time your local supermarket also will be gone. Then Walmart can take over the gas stations in the same manner. They are already expanding their banking services. You’ll wake up some morning in the future and discover Walmart has created a massive nationwide monopoly.
Not just the retail stores, supermarkets and others in Walmart’s lumbering path are being hurt. You also could lose your local newspaper. Weekly and small daily papers depend on local retailers for advertising to cover their costs and to make a living. When Walmart shuts down the local stores the newspaper loses so much money the paper struggles to survive.
Walmart, after a large advertising splash when they open, refuses to pay for ads in local papers. Instead they send “news releases” they expect the papers they have ruined to run. Their ads are considered “news” to be run free of charge, News that tells how Walmart has contributed funds to this group or that organization in the community.
If you fail to run the Walmart stuff you risk upsetting the group that received the Walmart money. Walmart even has the audacity of telling you to come out and take a photo of the event.
As for Mr. Rountree,the editor and Publisher of the Dawson News, a paper once owned by his father, he only has four employees now. They typeset the copy and the ads he turns in when he makes a sale. They help insert the preprinted ads. address the papers to be mailed and then count and bundle the papers that are delivered to stores to be sold.
Not too long ago his paper had 20 to 24 pages. Now it has dropped back to 10 or 12. He also competes with his own newspaper by publishing ads in his free flyers – papers without the news content.
Rountree personally sells all the advertising, gathers and writes the news, and take the photos. He is very good at what he does. And he fills the paper with the work of correspondents who tell about what is going on with their neighbors. Here’s an example I made up:
“It was surprisingly cold for the past week. I almost fell on a patch of ice at the funeral parlor when I dropped in to say goodbye to Wilfred Watson. Wilfred was always kind to his neighbors. As long a he could walk he mowed the lawn for Rose Peterson after her husband died. He will be missed at the Baptist church where he faithfully attended every service for 72 years. Never missed until he fell ill.
“Mildred Swarthmore visited the Johnson family on Glenn road this week. Mrs. Swarthmore went to high school with Jenny Johnson, and they have kept in touch over the years with letters, greeting cards, phone calls and now email. Mildred has three boys, all grown and on their own. The oldest, Tommy, has given Jenny a granddaughter and she is pleased as punch by that. She just wishes he boys lived closer.”
When a correspondent goes on vacation or comes down with the flu, people sometimes call in their news item on their own. It is important to them.
In the day I was there the Dawson news reported in front page articles how the Lady Eagles defeated the Pinewood Christian team 63 to 38. Both the boys and girls teams made it into the payoffs. In another story, on top of page one, Rountree reported that the County Board of Commissioners would meet on Wednesday morning to discuss routine matters.
Another story told of how the Seventh Dawson Public Safety Academy will train local residents on how to assist law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services and the court system. And the Dawson News front page included a story on a meeting about what local farmers planned for the growing season ahead. This included participation in the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey. Some 82,000 farmers around the nation participate.
Not exactly the screaming headlines about the battle between Obama and the US Congress, the Muslim beheadings and information on local crime one finds in the large daily papers.
Where would Dawson residents learn about what is important to them if they lose their local paper? The internet?
America is changing in many ways, and not always for the better.