Eldon's community paper stands strong after 124 years

1 year 4 months 2 weeks ago Saturday, June 30 2018 Jun 30, 2018 Saturday, June 30, 2018 6:30:00 AM CDT June 30, 2018 in News
By: Eva Cheng, KOMU 8 Reporter
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ELDON - Eldon's community newspaper, The Advertiser, has been telling the stories of the town and its people for 124 years. 

The paper’s first issue came out on June 11, 1894, and the paper has never missed a publication day since, according to current publisher Trevor Vernon. Eldon’s population was 379 when the Advertiser was first published. Today, the paper is delivered to about 3,700 subscribers every week across Miller County.

One of the paper’s founders was N.J. Shepherd, a freelance writer for publications in St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit. Vernon said, throughout the years, the paper’s ownership changed hands several times until his grandparents, Wallace and Marge Vernon, became the sole owners in 1953. 

Trevor Vernon said three generations of his family have all invested deeply in the newspaper and the community. 

“Newspaper kind of trends how the town is doing. So whenever the town is doing well, we are doing really well,” he said.

He said the “big challenge” facing the paper now is the tariffs placed by the U.S. government on imports of newsprint from Canada, a major supplier for The Advertiser. He said paper prices are now “shooting through the roof.”

“My grandfather talks of a time when there’s an actual newspaper that we printed on wallpaper when there was a shortage in paper. We are starting to face that again with the tariffs that are going on,” he said.

Vernon said the paper has survived many historical challenges, including the digital transformation that began a few decades ago.

“We used to go and sit at coffee shops every morning to get story leads. Now, in the morning, we can look at Facebook, we can look at Twitter feeds,” he said.

He said local ownership has allowed the paper to “move quickly” when a business decision needs to be made. For example, The Advertiser decided to set up a paywall shortly after its website was created 15 years ago. He said, even today, the paper doesn’t have many of online readers.

“Print advertising is by far the number one source where we make our money,” he said. “We make very little off of digital.”  

In an era of “fake news” accusations, Vernon said he thinks townspeople are more wary of national news than local news. 

“For us locally, I mean, we try to tell them, ‘Hey, we don’t do that. We wanna be fair with what’s going on.’ I don’t know if we’ve succeeded that all the time, but we try to,” he said. 

However, Vernon said he’s noticed a change in reader behavior. He said the paper used to have a group of “country correspondents” specialize in writing about townspeople’s lives, such as dinner plans and “who came in to visit whom.”

“There’s still some of that, but some of that has gone away a little bit. People are a little more private than they used to be,” he said. 

Vernon said The Advertiser has been well received by readers because it only focuses on local stories.  He said the paper doesn’t use The Associated Press' services and would not localize any state or national story unless it directly affects the town's people. 

“If there was a national tragedy, and there was a local person that was there at the national tragedy, we would tell their story about what happened to them, but not about the national tragedy,” he said.

Vernon said the paper has fewer than 20 staff members and a few of them have been there for more than 20 years.

Tom Collins is the paper’s high school sports reporter. He said he’s worked at the paper for about 18 years and he knows what he does is important throughout Miller County.

“In a small town paper such as us, and in towns like Eldon and even the smaller ones I cover, high school sports is one of the primary sources of conversation in and about those towns.They wanna know how their teams are doing,” he said. 

Collins said he’s telling stories often missed by larger papers. 

“They’ll be thanking me for taking their kid’s picture or writing stuff about their kids,” he said. 

Eldon resident Mark Brandt said three generations of his family have been reading The Advertiser. 

“It’s a little piece of Americana. And I think that’s why we read it here in town. If you go onto the news, you can go to the Washington Post, you can go get those national stories. But I think what a lot of people have forgotten about is hometown stories, those feel-good stories The Advertiser posts,” he said. 

Brandt said reading the paper gives him a chance to “slow down” in today’s fast-paced world. 

“On any given week, I can go in and see my nephew in the paper for baseball, or I can see Aunt Shirley’s quilting club is meeting next Thursday. And those little things, the true news that the community brings us together, and I think that’s why we read it and why I get it every week,” he said.

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