I miss Harlow Hickenlooper. The man who so many of us older kids remember from Saturday morning (black-and-white) TV was well known for so many things – getting a pie in the kisser, hamming it up with his good buddy Curley Myers and of course introducing the Three Stooges. On days like today, I really miss his perfect rendition of the birthday song.
Happy birthday to The Paper
Happy birthday to The Paper
Happy birthday dear Paper!
Happy birthday to yooooooouuuuuuuu!
That’s because today is indeed the birthday for the little paper that could. On July 31 in 2004 we were born when documents were filed and the state took the first of many payments! Yes Sir and Ma’am, we are officially 15 and on the path to Sweet 16. If the first 15 years are any indication, can you imagine what we’ll be like when we get our license?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. For those who don’t know the story, let me pull out the slideshow and reminisce. Feel free to grab some extra strong coffee as I beg your indulgence for a few minutes.
This all started the way most things do, a spark of a thought floating around in gray matter. That evolved into more of a concrete idea that got drafted onto a piece of paper. A few years later, it turned into printed words on paper, The Paper . . . in 2004, to be exact. A year or so later we added Judy Todd’s wonderful Weekly of West-Central Indiana. Then we bought the daily newspaper in Noblesville, The Times – a paper that’s been around since 1904. Then the owners of the Sheridan News – a publication that got its start in 1896 – entrusted our company to keep the News going. And we added a web-based publication called the Hamilton County Sports Daily.
So let’s chat just a bit, shall we, on what The Paper is . . . and isn’t. First, we are a business, plain and simple. We intend to be a successful one and make a fair profit. By doing that we can continue to stay in business and give back to this community through the creation of jobs, stewardship and more.
It’s always been our goal to operate in such a way that we return a fair profit to our shareholders and complete the trifecta, or as we say over and over and over around here – win-win-win. What we do has to make sense for our customers, our employees and our company. If any one of those three don’t feel like they got a square deal, it’s not a model that holds up well against the test of time.
That’s sort of been the problem for this industry for quite a while now. A lot of people think the Internet came along and next thing you know newspapers started going the way of T-Rex before the Jurassic movies – decaying in the ground. That’s just not the case. Daily newspaper circulation started declining in the 1950s and continued to slide down each decade since.
Thing is, most of that decline can be traced to the big, big boys. Smalltown USA newspapers did quite well, thank you very much. In fact, they did so well that out-of-state companies started buying out those local owners with cash offers that brought to mind the phrase “beyond their wildest dreams.” I remember one owner of a small paper telling me that his family was getting a check that was the mathematical equivalent of 16 times their annual earnings. Think about that for a second. An outside company paid the owners of a smalltown newspaper a price equal to 16 years of profits!
What happened next? Well, you don’t need a master’s from Purdue’s Krannert school of business. Those companies had to get a return on those huge investments so they began going after two of the quickest and easiest answers (not necessarily the right ones, mind you), they raised prices and they reduced expenses.
For the most part, that meant newsrooms started losing employees . . . businesses paid higher rates for ads . . . subscribers paid higher rates for subscriptions . . . you get the idea. There was no win-win-win. Customers lost, employees lost and the only winner, although it was short-term, was the out-of-state owners.
Not a great move, if you ask me.
Our model was always intended to ensure that all three of the above felt they were getting a fair return. And heading into what’s now our 15th year, we have tried to live by that.
So as we wrap up another year and work at finding those win-win-win solutions for the next one please allow me to once again offer a sincere and heart-felt thank you to so many of you who have believed in us and our model. Ditto for our employees who have gone through an industry transformation unlike anything we could have imagined, and to our founders and shareholders who have made it all possible.
I would be remiss not to mention one special person, Gail Hamilton. Gail was my favorite boss ever and helped me get this career off on the right foot. Gail hired me what seems like a century ago to be a sports editor at the Journal-Review. She also helped me get promoted a couple of times and was the kind of boss everyone should be lucky enough to work for. After a few decades at the J-R, she was unceremoniously dumped by one of those aforementioned out-of-state ownership deals and eventually became a big part of the team that started The Paper.
Unfortunately for all of us, Gail passed away just months before the first paper rolled off the press.
Marlis, we all miss you!
Next, it’s always a good idea to not let fiction fester into fact. We try to be very honest with our age – hell, we publish it every year right here! So we think it’s fair that you should know, in Paul Harvey’s famous words, the rest of the story.
The first newspaper in Montgomery County was the Crawfordsville Record. It rolled off a press – brought all the way from Cincinnati by freight wagons – on Oct. 18, 1831. The subscription cost a whopping $2 per year if paid in advance.
Next came the Examiner, a weekly Democratic newspaper that began in 1837. Two more papers opened and closed their doors – the Record and the Western Reporter – before the cousin to the current version of the Journal-Review, entitled simply the Review, opened in 1841. A competitor, the Journal, came along seven years later and fought tooth and nail (sound familiar) until 1929 when the two came together to form a new newspaper.
However, here’s where that rest of the story comes in.
Jump back in time to 1837 and The Examiner. It was published by Democrats George W. Snyder and Phillip E. Engle of the land office. In 1841, Joseph D. Masterson and Bennett W. Engle bought the equipment and the Examiner and turned it into the Review. That began a series of sales. The paper changed hands at least eight more times until – in 1929 – it merged with the Review and became a brand new paper, the Crawfordsville Journal and Review. One of those new owners was Foster Fudge and it was his family that would provide local ownership first through him and then to his son-in-law W. Addington Vance for almost half a century. In 1974, Vance sold the paper to a California company, Freedom Newspapers.
And that friends, is where local ownership ended and those out-of-state owners start.
In 1999, Freedom traded the Journal for a small weekly in south Texas to a gentleman out of Alabama, Phil T. Smith. He still owns it today.
That means for 30 years there was no local voice in Montgomery County. And that remained the case until 2004 when a small group of conscientious business people gave back a true local voice with the little newspaper that could – cough, cough, that would be us!
Now, 15 years later, we’re still here and still providing a local voice that no one else can.
Listen, this is no knock on employees from either paper. It’s simply a statement of fact that owners bear the responsibility to be good stewards – or not – to the community they serve. Think that’s not important? Ask non-profits how hard it is to raise money when local ownership of factories and businesses have moved out of town. Ask them. Please. They’ll tell you that it makes a definite difference.
Montgomery County has a long and proud history of journalism. It also has two daily papers, one that began in 1929 and for 45 wonderful years was locally owned. It’s now been owned and controlled by out-of-state companies for 45 years – exactly half its life. We’re proud and honored to carry the mantle as Montgomery County’s oldest locally owned newspaper. I can assure you, it’s a responsibility that we take seriously.
OK, enough on history. Thanks to a lot of you loyal readers and advertisers, the little paper that could has accomplished much in addition to returning a locally owned newspaper to Crawfordsville.
We’ve kept the light of day shining on the local hired hands. To be sure, they don’t like being called hired hands – and that’s part of the problem. Somewhere along the line public service turned into public rule. We’ve got meetings right here in River City where the politicians either don’t want the public to talk or do their best imitation of someone not paying attention when John Q. steps up to the microphone.
But for those in the no-zoning and no-wind crowd, they also need to remember that our elected officials are good folks. They are doing a job that they mostly get ripped for and they sure aren’t getting rich doing it. Once in a while though they might get a bit big for their britches – and we’ve been told more than once that you all appreciate it when we point that out. However, as much as that can be a problem, so is the folks who constantly see (in the words of a very smart man) gremlins in the woodwork.
We’ve turned into a society where a disagreement on an issue becomes all encompassing. And then it gets ugly. And then there’s no way to find middle ground.
Everyone needs to take a breath and figure out we are all we’ve got. Either we work together or we remain enemies. And enemies don’t usually find the best answers.
Third and maybe most important, we have done everything we can think of to help local organizations, especially the non-profits. Those folks, like MUFFY, Family Crisis Shelter, Boys & Girls Club, YSB, Trinity Mission and many, many more do so much good in this community. They’ve told us over and over that the publicity we give them has helped immensely. And we’ve told them from the bottom of our hearts, it’s our privilege.
So, what will the next 15 years bring? Not a clue. Just look at the last couple of years as we keep evolving from a wood-pulp product to electrons. This industry is changing more rapidly than I can eat doughnuts, and that’s saying something.
It’s our birthday! Thanks for making it happen!

Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Wednesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at ttimmons@thepaper24-7.com.