In April of 2004, a small group of four individuals began looking at a business plan for creating a daily newspaper that would be for, by and about the people, places and events that make up Montgomery County. In a world that has seen newspaper circulation decline, and in a county where a daily and a weekly newspaper already existed, the plan was, to say the least, bold. Yet it had strong appeal to the four and out of those meetings was born The Paper of Montgomery County. Gail Hamilton, Dan Taylor, Barry Lewis and Tim Timmons then began going about the task of turning the plan into a reality.
They did not write a mission statement. As Tim said, mission statements are great things if you happen to own an acrylic plaque-making company. Other than that though, no one seems to ever be able to remember exactly what the mission is. But the mission for this new newspaper was straightforward and simple, yet very defining. The mission of this new daily newspaper was to be three things:
1. Local news (and "local" was defined as Montgomery County)
2. Community involvement
3. Legendary customer service
Three years later, that mission is still at the base of everything the company does.
The group figured if they could create a newspaper and a company that could stay true to those three basic principles, they would have a reasonable chance of success. They also believed that there was a need and a hunger to once again have a locally owned and operated newspaper. After Ag Vance sold the Journal Review to Freedom Newspapers in the 1970s, the Journal was owned first by a California company and now by an Alabama company. Bringing the concept of local ownership, and more importantly, local responsibility, back into the media mix was something the group thought important.
But three years ago, the small group had the task in front of them to create a daily newspaper.
The first question most people ask is "why?"
Perhaps Gail, a long-time newspaper editor and a figure known to literally thousands of people across the county, had the best answer: A good community needs a good newspaper, she said, repeating a phrase she had told countless young (and old) reporters over the years. Gail contended that this community needed a locally owned and locally operated newspaper and that's why she wanted to be a part of creating The Paper.
For Dan and Barry, both saw The Paper as an opportunity to give something back to their hometown. Both grew up in Montgomery County, graduating from Southmont High School in 1979. After earning a Lilly scholarship, Dan went to Wabash where he worked part-time for Gail and Tim at the Journal Review. After graduation, he went to law school in Pennsylvania. After enjoying early career success, Dan opened a thriving practice with offices in Crawfordsville and in <st1:country-region w:st="on">Lebanon</st1:country-region>.
Barry went to Manchester College and then began a media career that found him working in sports and news at WCVL. Gail and Tim hired Barry to become the sports editor at the Journal-Review. That was in 1984 and since then Barry has worked at newspapers in northern and southern Indiana, as well as Ohio. He has worked a number of different positions, including the editor of The Tribune in Seymour.
Tim was the third connection to Gail. She hired him away from the Lafayette Journal & Courier and made him the sports editor of the Journal Review in the early 1980s. That began a 22-year span with Freedom Newspapers, the former owners of the Journal Review, that saw Tim rise up the ranks to become first an editor, then a general manager and later a publisher. After leaving Freedom, Tim became a group publisher and later a vice president and general manager with one of the largest newspapers in Indiana, the South Bend Tribune. Tim also became an author after his first book was published in 2004.
All three men point with some pride to their past relationship with Gail, and more importantly, all three are quick to credit their former boss and mentor for much of their successes in life.
However, The Paper almost stopped before it got started when tragedy struck.
In July of 2004, Gail suffered what would end up being her last heart attack. She missed a meeting because she wasn't feeling well and two weeks later passed away.
That probably would've been the end of the plan for The Paper, but those close to Gail all were in agreement that giving up at that point would've been the one thing she would have hated the most.
So before the end of July the plan was finalized and The Paper of Montgomery County Indiana Inc. was born.
Dan created a plan to bring together a special group of investors for the project. He looked around the community for a diverse group. He said that his goal was to put into one room people who not only cared about the community, but who had the mindset to make things better.
The group he assembled fit the description well. There was local businessman and politician Phil Boots (now Sen. Boots) who was also a New Market High School graduate; a local banker and CHS graduate, Jeff Bannon; an active community leader and at that time the United Fund Drive Chair Debbie Schavietello; a Wabash College graduate and local doctor, John Roberts; a Southmont graduate and a Nucor employee, Steve Stewart; and another local businessman and a North Montgomery graduate, Kevin Carpenter. Those six, along with Taylor and Timmons, were the initial owners and board of directors for the company. Later, Nucor's Gary Hamand joined the board. As did two more Southmont graduates, entrepreneur, farmer and businessman Robert Miller and contractor and entrepreneur Terry Barker
Barry, his wife Sherry and Tim were the first three employees of the company. Until they leased a building in the heart of downtown on Main Street, the trio worked out of their homes and cars for the first few months. They began the process of assembling a staff and set a goal of hiring as many local people as possible.
Although critical expertise was needed, part of the company's philosophy was to follow the same plan with employees as it did in creating the board, get as many talented local people as possible. Larry Gallagher was the first advertising department employee hired and quickly became the leading figure in the department.
On Nov. 25, 2004, Thanksgiving Day, The Paper of Montgomery County published its first edition.
It couldn't have gone worse.
The weather that evening was horrendous. It began with rain that quickly turned to freezing rain and sleet as temperatures plummeted. Roads became icy and dangerous and Montgomery County got a rare Thanksgiving Day snow as well.
However, changes were made in the delivery system and The Paper quickly rebounded. A few weeks later, when 2004 ended, The Paper had almost reached 1,000 subscribers, an amazing feat considering the inauspicious start.
In 2005, The Paper really began making an impact in Montgomery County. A large donation was made to the Boys & Girls Club, following through on the company's promise to focus on all things local and to dedicate itself to making a positive difference in the community. In fact, that donation began a pattern of donations that have taken the form of money, advertising space and volunteer hours that continues today as the company has now donated more than $200,000 back into our community.
The company grew quite a bit during 2005. Judy Todd, the owner of The Weekly of West-Central Indiana sold her paper to the company, giving the local group an even stronger presence in the market.
The Paper also made significant changes to its web site, www.thepaper24-7.com and added a new web site in conjunction with the addition of The Weekly, www.wow24-7.com.
By the end of 2005, The Paper's circulation had grown to almost 4,000 and was continuing to climb. The newspaper industry also took notice and several articles were written about what many were calling an amazing feat.
During the next year, The Paper began running into delivery problems. As gas prices climbed upward and pushed the $3 per gallon level, The Paper hit one snag after another. Although advertising continued to climb as local advertisers found they were getting good results with The Paper, circulation began to flatten and the outlook didn't seem quite as rosy.
An important thing happened during the year though. First, Robert Miller added a new hat to his ownership and went to work full time at The Paper in the revenue departments. Specifically, Robert began looking for better answers on the delivery system. Eventually, that led to the 2007 conversion from contracting people to deliver the daily paper to handing the delivery off to the U.S. Post Office. But more on that later.
Later in 2006, another owner followed Robert's lead and Kevin Carpenter came to work full-time in the advertising sales department. Kevin quickly became the second-leading producer, just behind Larry, and gave The Paper a great boost. And then toward the end of the year, Jeff Bannon became the fourth owner to switch careers and go to work for the company full-time. Jeff also joined the ad department and brought an energy and enthusiasm to bear on his new co-workers.
By the beginning of 2007, business was back on the rise. As soon as the switch was made to the postal delivery system, The Paper really began growing again. More than 500 new customers were added in just a few weeks and soon The Paper was at 5,000 and growing.
Another hugely important trend really took shape in 2007 that helped The Paper establish itself as Montgomery County's leading media, advertisers began switching from other media to The Paper.
Although no exact data is available, it seems reasonable that The Paper is now the largest daily newspaper devoted to Montgomery County. Although the Alabama-owned Journal Review and the two Gannett-owned papers, the Indianapolis Star and Lafayette Journal & Courier, all come into this county, none are believed to have more papers sold specifically in Montgomery County than The Paper.
2007 also has seen many improvements and innovations.
For example, The Paper's web site unveiled its first Online Auction. The event, which allowed advertisers to sell items online in an auction-type of setting, was such a hit that The Paper is continuing it today.
The annual Readers' Choice awards that The Paper started in 2005 has continued in 2007 with even more categories and more participation by local readers and advertisers.
The Paper worked with the local schools to help the inaugural Sugar Creek Classic holiday basketball tournament get off the ground. In 2008, the successful event will be expanded to include a girls' tournament as well.
Speaking of sports, The Paper began to recognize local athletes with not just All-County teams, but All-County teams, underclass teams and senior teams. It was just another example of how The Paper improves on old and existing ideas by simply holding true to one of its three missions, community involvement.
In July of 2007, a group of owners from The Paper and The Weekly went together and purchased the Elston Building, the site of NCB in downtown Crawfordsville. Not only was it another example of how this group of special individuals continue to believe in and invest in the community, but the location is also where the first basketball game in the state of Indiana was played.
And they weren't done. In September of 2009, the investors purchased The Times in Noblesville, the only daily newspaper in fast-growing Hamilton County.
So where does the company that now owns The Noblesville Times, The Paper of Montgomery County and the Weekly of West-Central Indiana go from here? Continued growth is the first answer. Of course that is in direct opposition to most newspapers around the country today. But the strategy isn't rocket science. The company, with its three-pronged mission, and more importantly, thanks to its wonderful customers, is a local company that truly shows it cares about the community by giving back.
It's a success story that was hard to imagine a few years ago. Local jobs have been added to Montgomery and Hamilton counties, wages added to the tax base, almost a quarter of a million dollars donated back into the communities and not a penny of government money was used. Where will it all end up? If the last five years are any indication, the sky might not be the limit.