Hard work still required: American legends

August 8, 2014

It’s an American legend—the mom and pop newspaper.

Thankfully, the legend hasn’t faded into the fog of history. Today, there are still hundreds of husband/wife teams putting out fine newspapers for their communities.

It isn’t any easier now than it was in the days of letterpress and Linotypes. Still required: hard work, long workdays, deadlines, determination, news-sense and business acumen.

But that’s only half the story, the easy part.

The other half is the relationship between Mom and Pop. Unless it’s rock solid, mutually nurturing and supportive, it will fall apart—and so will the newspaper.

How do these special couples do it? How do they manage to operate successful newspapers and also succeed as loving partners for a lifetime?

Is there a formula, a rule, a secret even?

Let’s find out from four mom and pop teams who combined, have worked side by side at their newspapers for more than 100 years, and counting.

“Be patient, caring, empathetic, and loving. Always, listen, listen, listen … to your partner.”

 

 

—John and Susan Galer, publishers, The Journal-News, Hillsboro, IL

How did you meet?

John—We met bumping into each other during a heavy snowstorm, each of us going a different direction and not seeing the other. (Very romantic) We had lived in neighboring apartments for a couple of years but had never met.

Sue worked for a competing newspaper in Hillsboro at that time, and I was the production manager of The Hillsboro Journal. Both newspapers in Hillsboro were locally and family owned. Our dating relationship proved very interesting, but we never talked about either’s work or our jobs. Our first out-in-the-public date (not just hanging out) was to a dinner honoring her boss. I covered it as a reporter for our paper.

Sue—We lived next door to each other for quite awhile but had never met. He even backed into my car behind our apartments once, and I still never met him. We each worked for different newspapers—competitors—and basically ran into each other during a snowstorm in between the buildings where we lived.

How did you get into the newspaper business, and how long have you been business partners?

John—You could say I was kind of born into the business. The Hillsboro Journal dates back to 1852 and has been part of the Galer family since 1945 when my grandfather moved from Wisconsin to Hillsboro to partner with the Journal’s owner, Sam Little. My dad, Phillip, followed in 1952, coming out of college, and I arrived in 1972. I had written local sports for the paper while I was in high school, and was a paper carrier when younger.

Sue and I have been business partners since very early in our marriage, but she came in actively when our kids got older and were out of grade school.

Sue—I actually married into the business, though at first I worked in the banking industry after “retiring” from my job, due to marrying the competition. I do credit my former employer, The Montgomery County News, for some of my early training.

Primary job of each partner.

John—My primary responsibility has always been the production and business management end of the company. Sue has been particularly acute in the accounting and human resources department. We both have advertising accounts, and we both go out on story assignments. Like any small business, we both wear a lot of hats. It’s just part of the job.

Sue—I’m more of the office manager portion of being a co-publisher. I handle most of the day-to-day office issues, along with the hiring and scheduling responsibilities. I also handle the financial responsibilities, making sure all the numbers get crunched and the taxes are filed. But as in any small business, you do what has to be done, whether it’s handling a ruffled customer, running out to take photos and write a story or cleaning a clogged drain.

Who is the boss of the business?

John—For much of the business we both are involved in the decision-making. I feel the responsibility of overviewing the whole operation, but Sue is as knowledgeable as I am on most things. We both try to keep each other informed, so either of us can act or react accordingly to any situation that arises. That said, with the responsibilities of family, the household and work too, as stated in the Godfather, Sue is‚“Capo di tutti capi.” (Leader of all leaders.)

Sue—I give the title of boss to John. He has been at it a lot longer than I have and has much more insight and foresight than me; I’m a nuts and bolts kinda girl. But I like to think that we handle almost everything together when possible and respect each other’s opinion on whatever the situation is.

What’s the most difficult part of working with your spouse every day?

John—For me, the most difficult thing of working together is balancing the time factors. When Sue might need me, sometimes I’m deep in the middle of a problem or project. The biggest challenge is time delegation. We have to do a lot of scheduling.

Sue—I think that the most difficult part is being together almost nonstop, and yet when we fall into bed at night, I realize that I haven’t really gotten to talk to him all day.

What’s the best part of working with your spouse every day?

John—The best part of working together is having someone beside you, someone that you know deep inside, who knows what you mean, what you want to do, what’s expected, and you don’t have to explain everything. Sue is always right there. It’s been many years now, but I had an employee die in an auto accident while out on an ad call. Sue was right beside me when we informed his wife of the tragic news. I couldn’t have gotten through that without her. Sue’s been here for all the great times, as well as the tough ones.

Sue—The best part—is just being together all the time. I enjoy his company whether we are working together, covering an event together or just knowing that he is there on the opposite side of the room.

What does each of you bring to the success of the newspaper?

John—I’ve been pretty good (or lucky) at seeing and getting us (the business) where we need to be headed. Sue is great at keeping me organized, overseeing in general, and keeping us on track. She also does most of the hiring, which is invaluable.

Sue—I feel like I bring organizational talents to the newspaper. No two days are ever alike, but I feel like if I can keep things as organized as possible, (which is probably not organized) we can meet those daily, weekly and monthly deadlines that are so necessary in the newspaper business.

Do you have any written or unwritten rules regarding your business partnership?

John—I always say that rules are meant to be broken; you just have to be flexible in most things in life. That said, Sue and I have no written rules. We both respect each other’s decisions and keep each other informed of any important issues that develop.

Sue—We don’t have any written rules regarding our business partnership, but I think that the biggest unwritten rule is just to talk to each other about the decisions that need to be made and work through them together.

Which comes first, the relationship or the business?

John—I’m not sure that we can separate the relationship from the business. There are important points in family life that have to come first, but to be honest, everything evolves, revolves and flows around all the aspects of running and being part of The Journal as a newspaper. We are a couple who are dedicated to covering the events and lives that encompass our community and all the communities that we cover through all our publications. That takes a lot of time, but we have been lucky to find that balance between it all. We also have a great staff who enables us to make it all work.

Sue—Which comes first is a toughie, but I do feel like our relationship comes first. It just gets put on hold sometimes. If things aren’t right between the two or us, nothing else seems to go right, either.

Do you schedule personal time with each other? If so, what do you enjoy doing together outside the office?

John—We do schedule time for ourselves, sometimes informally. Maybe a friend calls and wants to go somewhere, and we just pick up and go spontaneously. However, many times we have to get time scheduled into the system for us. We enjoy movies, live theater, concerts, and sporting events. (Sue’s a country girl, and I’m an old rocker.) For the past several years, we’ve started taking care of flowers along our block of Main Street together, and No. 1 on the list of outside-the-office activities is taking care of our granddaughter, Grace.

Sue—Personal time is sometimes hard to find, but over the years we have learned to make whatever we do together fun. We enjoy covering events together, many of which are very nice and lots of fun. We are active in our church and in our community, so there is always lots to do. When we do have some free time, we enjoy the theatre, concerts and traveling. Although long trips are kind of hard to come by, we’ve found that you can do lots of things on long weekends.

Your advice to couples who are thinking about becoming working business partners?

John—I’m not big on giving advice, because I think everyone does best by learning from life on his or her own. Relationships aren’t an individual thing; they’re a partnering, team connection. I’d say be patient, caring, empathetic, and loving. Always, listen, listen, listen … to your partner.

Sue—Our daughter and son-in-law are following in our footsteps in the newspaper business so advice to other couples is a reality for us. I never wanted our children to join us in the newspaper business. Working together and worrying about the business is a 24/7 occupation. It was especially hard when our children were small and John put in so many long hours—day and night. But it has been a good life, too. I guess my advice is to be a team. Work together, respect each other and don’t forget to make time for each other. We are at our best when we are together.

 

 

“Start with love and respect. You will need a lot of both.”

—Jerry and MacLeod Bellune, publishers, the Lexington County Chronicle & The Dispatch-News, Lexington, SC.

Note—Jerry Bellune contributed the responses with MacLeod’s input.

How did you meet?

MacLeod was an honors graduate of the University of South Carolina (finished a four-year program in three years) who was hired to work at The State, the Columbia, SC, daily where I was working as copy desk chief, wishing a beautiful, bright and talented woman would walk into my life. She did.

How did you get into the newspaper business, and how long have you been business partners?

Carl Wymer, the crusty managing editor of the Greenville (SC) News, took a gamble on a young man with limited experience when I came home from 17 months in Korea. MacLeod was a J-grad with an internship at the Tallahassee (FL) Democrat who came to work at The State, where we met. We were married June 6, 1964, and became business partners in April 1982 when the Philadelphia Bulletin went out of business.

The primary job of each partner?

MacLeod’s the semi-retired publisher and runs the show. I’m the retired editor emeritus and do whatever she wants me to do.

Who is the boss of the business?

We share the burden equally.

What’s the most difficult part of working with your spouse every day?

Accepting that she’s right more often than I am. We’re equally stubborn. Fortunately, we love and respect each other.

What’s the best part of working with your spouse every day?

I’m working with the world’s smartest, most capable publisher. Not sure what her excuse is, but she puts up with me.

What does each of you bring to the success of the newspaper?

She’s creative, visionary but practical. Good qualifications for a publisher.

I’m impulsive, headstrong and opinionated. Maybe good qualifications for an editor.

Do you have any written or unwritten rules regarding your business partnership?

No written rules. When we occasionally disagree, we find a way to resolve it.

Which comes first, the relationship or the business?

The relationship and our family.

Do you schedule personal time with each other? If so, what do you enjoy doing together outside the office?

No. We both read a lot. Just spending time on the deck in the evening reading is, for me, the greatest relaxation. We have a great staff, which allows us to travel a lot.

Your advice to couples who are thinking about becoming working business partners.

Start with love and respect. You will need a lot of both. It also helps to believe you are each other’s best friends because you will face a lot of tough times and tough decisions. It’s best to decide on solutions together.

 

 

“We have a rule that we leave business matters at the office.”

—Rudy and Kathy Taylor, Taylor Newspapers, Caney, KS

How did you meet?

We were high school sweethearts in our hometown of Caney, KS, where Kathy’s father and mother published the local newspaper. We now have been married 49 years.

How did you get into the newspaper business, and how long have you been business partners?

Rudy majored in journalism while in college and worked in television and for a major corporation. When we were only 24 years old, we came back to Caney and bought Kathy’s parents’ newspaper, The Caney Chronicle. We’ve been in business together for 44 years.

The primary job of each partner?

We share publishing duties, with Kathy serving as chief financial officer and Rudy working as overall manager of the three newspapers. We have three editors working for us, two of whom are our children, Andy Taylor and Jenny Taylor Diveley.

Who is the boss of the business?

We share bossing duties, with Kathy handling personnel, payroll and payables.

Rudy works with the three editors as a long-distance partner. He mostly contributes editorials and columns, plus an occasional feature story. And he helps with pagination as needed, always from his own desk.

What’s the most difficult part of working with your spouse every day?

It is sometimes difficult to keep personal feelings away from business decisions. And we don’t get to share our work feelings with each other after work because we already know everything about each other.

What’s the best part of working with your spouse every day?

We like sharing the challenges of staying in business, and believe me, that’s a real deal in today’s world. We gather our two family editors at our kitchen often to make major decisions about our publications.

What does each of you bring to the success of the newspaper?

Kathy is strong in finance and details. She’s the ultimate proofreader. She likes writing two-dozen tiny stories rather than anything lengthy. Rudy likes full-blown feature stories, taking pictures and making sure all bases are covered on production.

Do you have any written or unwritten rules regarding your business partnership?

We have a rule that we leave business matters at the office. That’s easier for Rudy than for Kathy, but we truly work at relaxing, doing yard work, playing with grandkids, etc., once we leave the newspaper office.

Which comes first, the relationship or the business?

Absolutely the relationship. Yes, we breathe printer’s ink, and we love to talk about news coverage, current events, other media, etc. But when it comes to where we stand on payables or how much money is in the bank—that’s a no-no at home.

Do you schedule personal time with each other? If so, what do you enjoy doing together outside the office?

Personal time is spent working in the flower gardens and yard at home, and making lots of little trips to larger towns where we buy supplies and eat in nicer restaurants than those found locally. We love taking short vacation trips, and we never take long ones.

Your advice to couples who are thinking about becoming working business partners?

No. 1: We advise one of you to keep a full-time job with benefits. No. 2: Limit your hiring—payroll will drain you. No. 3: Find a good accountant to work with you. Let the accountant set up the business structure, handle monthly reports and 941s, and all tax work. Never try to do those tasks by yourselves, unless you’re qualified. Most newspaper folks are journalists, not business and finance sleuths.

 

 

“We say we are going to leave office discussions behind after we leave work, but that rarely works. It’s too much a part of us.”

—Alan and Debra Campbell,
publishers, Leelanau (County) Enterprise, Lake Leelanau, MI

How did you meet?

Alan—We met when Deb became part-time ad salesperson for the Holly Herald in Holly, MI. I bought the paper from my dad, who was also selling ads part-time.

Deb—When I applied for the position, I tripped on my heel, slipped, and just had a big smile and said, “I’m here.” Alan hired me. He didn’t even ask me anything.

Alan—I can spot talent, regardless of how it’s presented.

How did you get into the newspaper business and how long have you been business partners?

Alan—I tried to avoid it, but I couldn’t find a job out of college and so I became a cub reporter for the weekly newspaper Deb and I now own.

Deb—I needed a job. I had a good eye for layout and was able to gab.

Overall—Alan bought the Holly Herald in 1983 from his dad. Deb and Alan bought the Leelanau Enterprise in 1997.

The primary job of each partner?

Deb—I handle the advertising, and the human resource part of the newspaper.

Alan—I concentrate on the editorial side, but for most decisions of consequence, we talk through it together. We have coffee together every morning, which serves as sort of our daily managers’ meeting.

Who is the boss of the business?

Alan and Deb—Us.

What’s the most difficult part of working with your spouse every day?

Deb—There’s really no time set aside for each other. You see each other every day and the days are long, so there is no time at the end of the day. There’s always a deadline breathing down, so as quickly as you resolve one issue, there’s another one on its way.

Alan—It’s hard sometimes making business decisions and then being able to leave those decisions at work. You almost have to get out of town to leave the business behind, and even then it’s not easy.

What’s the best part of working with your spouse every day?

Deb—None.

Alan—Ditto.

Alan— just kidding—actually, we have different personalities, and they complement each other. Deb’s detail oriented, which is needed, and I am not. I spend more time looking at the big picture.

What do each of you bring to the success of the newspaper?

Alan—I enjoy the news side, and I think we put out a pretty good editorial product.

Deb has a great rapport with advertisers and has their best interest at heart. Readers and advertisers can tell how much we love our community.

Do you have any written or unwritten rules regarding your business partnership?

Deb—Hands off my lunch.

Alan—All food is fair game after 1 p.m.

(That’s about it. No written agreement. We say we are going to leave office discussions behind after we leave work, but that rarely works. It’s too much a part of us.)

Which comes first, the relationship or the business?

Alan—The business takes so much effort that it does infringe on your relationship if you compare running a newspaper with a 40-hour-a-week job. Then again, working together while working so much ensures that we stay close, compared to working this hard in unrelated jobs.

Deb—I work, we have a son and I take care of the home. Sometimes it’s too much.

Do you schedule personal time with each other? If so, what do you enjoy doing together outside the office?

Alan—Not as much as we’d like. We’re also raising a 14-year-old son, and so we struggle for time together, like most couples raising a family.

Deb—When we do get time together, we always have fun. We just need more of it.

Your advice to couples who are thinking about becoming working business partners?

Alan—Make sure your skills complement each other and don’t overlap. There’s no space for two editors or two ad managers at the same newspaper.

Deb—If you don’t want to work hard every week, don’t go into the newspaper business. © Ken Blum 2014

 

Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at blummer@aol.com; or phone to 330-682-3416.

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