Important announcement about your hometown newspaper!
The Mineola Monitor and the Wood County Democrat have more than 300 years of journalism between them – come August, the county’s two legacy publications will merge into one, expanding coverage throughout the area.
Bluebonnet Publishing, parent company of both weeklies, aims to combine the newspapers’ strengths to bolster reporting on communities throughout Wood County.
Announcing the merger of the Monitor and the Democrat this week, “Our goal is to broaden our coverage geographically and to deepen the content,” said Bill Woodall, managing partner of Bluebonnet Publishing, a Kilgore-based company that owns both titles that will move forward as the new, weekly Wood County Monitor. “It’s not normal in today’s marketplace, but we’re not doing this to save one single penny. We’re not closing any offices, we’re not eliminating any staff, we’re not shutting down any phone lines or reducing the number of computers.
“We’re simply going to make a better newspaper.”
Running six (now five) East Texas publications and printing others, Woodall often jokes a newspaper’s first duty to its readers is to stay in business.
That said, “The financial experts might disagree with us, but it’s our opinion that readers in hometown America want to be informed about events driving their communities. That’s news you can’t get anywhere else.”
Staffing at the papers won’t change – residents throughout Wood County will still see the familiar faces of their community journalists. Joyce Hathcock, publisher of both papers, will continue in that role – she’s worked 35 years at the Monitor and has led the two publications for much of that time.
“Merging two newspapers that have both served Wood County for over 100 years was not a decision made lightly,” Hathcock said. “However, there will be little change other than combined news in the Wood County Monitor. Change for the better.
“Our goal now is to extend our coverage, giving our readers the opportunity to know what is happening in our county.”
Doris Newman, who’s been with the Monitor since 1988 and became editor in 1995, will edit the new, combined Wood County Monitor.
“Doris has deep roots in her community and in this county,” Bluebonnet Editorial Director James Draper said. “She’s a veteran reporter, editor, photographer – a real community journalist.”
Larry Tucker, editor of the Wood County Democrat, will be Wood County news editor.
“Tucker’s built news relationships with county officials, with community leaders, with churches, with clubs, with readers. He knows his way around Lake Fork, he puts mile after mile after mile on the odometer making sure his communities are covered,” Draper said. “These are the two people who know where the stories are, and they’ve been working alongside each other extremely well – their new partnership’s going to be even more valuable moving forward and growing the countywide news desk.”
Evan Dudley was recently hired to be sports editor of the new paper.
“Evan was an excellent find, and sports fans throughout our combined coverage area are going to enjoy the additional coverage they’ll get in the weekly paper.”
The transition for advertisers will be an easy one: Larry Box will still work with clients out of the Quitman office while Heather Trammell works as the advertising sales representative in the Mineola office. Brandi Box will continue to handle classified advertising in Quitman.
With 28 years at the Mineola Monitor under her belt, the merger is a big change for Newman.
It took some getting used to, the new editor said, to watch the newspaper that welcomed her to the community decades ago evolve into a new publication. She’s looking forward to a change for the better.
“I am excited about the possibilities of what we can do with this,” Newman said, recalling a recent local speech by economist Ray Perryman: “One of his pieces of advice was for our county to continue to expand upon working together in reaching out to new businesses and expanding offerings in our county. I really feel like this falls very much in line with his advice to our businesses in our county.”
Tucker said he, too, was hesitant at first but the chance to cover more in the county won him over quickly.
“This is kind of like a gift to me, for what I want to do,” he said. The hardest part has been keeping the news to himself. “I think it’s going to be a great thing. I like how we’re going to do sports, I really like how we’re going to include more news. People have always wanted more county news from me.
“Everyone is kind of leery of change sometimes. I’m not. I embrace change. Bottom line is I’m excited. We want to be bigger and better.”
There are some growing pains ahead, Newman allowed. At the very least, readers will find a heavier paper in newsstands and in their mailboxes, though the price won’t change.
“We will have a lot of things that we’re going to be working out, as far as the logistics of gathering the information, getting the stories produced and into the paper,” she explained. The newspaper will be recruiting new contributing writers to cover all corners of the county. “I’ve been with the Monitor for a long time – from the time, actually, my family moved to Mineola. I read the Monitor and learned about this town in many ways through the articles that were in the Monitor at the time. I worked here in high school.
“It is a process of adjusting to this as a change that will help make our paper stronger and better for the communities in our county.”
Recruiting ‘stringers’ is an immediate and ongoing task.
“We’re actively looking for people to help us increase our coverage of the county,” Woodall said. “We’d like to provide our readers with coverage of school boards, city councils and community organizations across the county. This will provide us with a platform to accomplish that.”
Woodall, whose company bought the newspapers almost four years ago, noted that the idea of the merger was first presented to him by a reader.
“One of our subscribers sent back his renewal card with a check and a note - why don’t you just combine these papers and give us a better newspaper?’ That was about three years ago. The idea’s been rattling around in my head ever since. And, we regularly hear that from others. Eventually, the details crystallized and we’re moving ahead with it.”
The annual subscription price will remain unchanged - $31.50 per year locally, $44 outside the area.
Advertisers who have a rate agreement in place will see no change in their rates – they’ll simply get twice as much circulation. Advertisers who do not have a rate agreement will pay the same price advertisers have for the last three years paid to be in both the newspapers.
“I lived in Wood County, edited the Wood County Democrat for eight years in the ‘70s and early ‘80s,” Woodall noted. “In the ‘90s I was publisher of the Mineola Monitor for a couple of years. My children graduated from high school in Wood County and exactly half my grandchildren were christened here. “This county is important to me personally as well as professionally. Local newspapering in Wood County is not going to get weaker on my watch.”
According to Draper, weekly coverage decisions will be based on the significance of the story, not on geography or the size of the community involved.
“The two papers already produce a lot of news,” he said. “With Doris and Tucker working together, our readers are going to see really strong front pages, the best of what’s happening in Wood County, and they’re still going to find the same coverage - and more - inside the paper.
“We’ve invested a lot of money in our Wood County coverage, and we’re prepared to invest more. We’re looking to add staff at a time when newspapers from coast to coast are trimming staff. We’re expanding our coverage, because we have community journalists who can make it happen - all our staff have been doing a great job on their own, and we’re excited to see what they can do together.”
While many things will stay the same in the merger of the Wood County Democrat and the Mineola Monitor, staff members would like contributors to be aware of a new deadline for news.
The combination of the contents of the two papers for the Wood County Monitor will result in a larger paper and more sections and an earlier deadline for production of part of the publication. Consequently, the deadline for news to be brought in to the Monitor about nonprofit organizations, civic clubs, churches, school news, weddings, engagements and birth announcements will be 4 p.m. on Thursday prior to the week’s edition it will be in. All other news, including letters to the editor, will be noon on Friday.
The deadlines for advertising for the newspaper will remain the same. Those are noon on Friday for retail/business-type advertising and 10 a.m. on Monday morning for classified advertising. The new retail rate for the new publication is $10 per column inch. The cost of classified advertisements will continue to be $12 for 15 words and 20 cents per word over that.
The Wood County Monitor’s letter to the editor policy remains the same with a 300-word limit. Letters which are slanderous or libelous will not be run and any letter over the limit will be charged the per-inch advertising rate. The Monitor reserves editorial discretion on publishing as well as editing letters.
As a reminder, the Wood County Monitor will continue to runs basic, factual obituaries for free and with photographs if room allows. To include other than the basic information, the obituary will need to be placed as paid advertisement and subject to the advertising per-inch rate.
Submitted items can be emailed or taken to either of the offices which remain in the same location: the former Monitor at 715 Mimosa St., Mineola, and the former Democrat at 310 E. Goode St, Suite C, in Quitman.