For more than seven years, while serving as the owner and publisher of The Leader, I have to admit we’ve shared some mighty proud moments inside the walls of our little community newspaper, no matter if the walls have changed.
On July 1, 2012, I walked in the door of The Leader with the challenge of reviving a community newspaper that had a wondrous past but a bleak future. From a financial standpoint, The Leader didn’t have many months – if not weeks – left to continue publication. Our industry, as a whole, had barely survived the Great Recession, which in Houston was delayed by a couple of years. We also walked out of that recession with a whole host of new competitors – websites, social media and glossy magazines all fighting for local marketing dollars.
Our plan back in 2012 was to buck the trend of cutting staff and content, and instead, we made a commitment to drastically improve the worth of The Leader by covering news in this community in a way it hadn’t been covered in a long time.
The apex of that transition came one day, a few months later, when an area Realtor walked in the door and bought a package of full-page ads (a big deal for a local newspaper). When I asked why this lady wanted to invest in the local newspaper, she said that everywhere she went, people were talking about stories they read in The Leader.
That was a proud moment for my staff and me.
A few months later, The Leader took a gamble with local businesses and decided to host our first event – a Senior Expo designed to bring needed services to the seniors who live in our community. This had never been done in our part of Houston, and it was amazing to see hundreds of people walk into the halls of the SPJST Lodge and swarm the small booths of our local businesses.
The execution of that event, and its prolonged success, has been a proud moment for my staff and me.
There have been other wonderful milestones along the way. In December of each year, which we’re actually changing this year, we have a program called “Voluntary Pay,” where we ask members of our community to help support local journalism with a small donation to The Leader. We are going to hold that fundraiser in March of next year (rather than right before Christmas), but the support we receive from the community each year is absolutely astounding. Thousands of people send us small – sometimes big – checks because they appreciate their access to local news.
Having the support of the community you serve is always a proud moment for my staff and me.
And then last week, another sterling moment in our stewardship of this community’s newspaper happened.
I have known a man named Robb Reeves for more than 20 years. He was my publisher and I was his editor in Selma, Ala., and together, we formed a partnership that lasted long after we left the iconic Civil Rights city. In fact, Robb is the entire reason I moved to Houston from Alabama in 2006 – he was publisher of the Conroe newspaper and part of a company that hired me.
Later in 2006, Robb left Conroe and bought his own newspapers in Kansas. Then, last year, when we formed a new company that owns both The Greensheet and The Leader, along with papers in Fort Bend County and Charlotte, Robb joined us as an owner. And with him, he brought the wonderful idea that we publish a book devoted to the veterans who are from this area of Houston.
I learned long ago that once Robb gets a fire under him, you’d best just let it burn. Robb recruited one of our writers, Zarah Parker, to pull a book together called “Our Veterans,” and that book – after more than six months of work – arrived at our office last week.
There is no way I can adequately describe the amount of pride I have in the work Robb, Zarah and Jake Dukate have done on this book. What’s even more amazing is the amount of participation we had from people who are children of veterans or veterans themselves.
In this 120-page, hard-cover book, we’ve had the chance to capture the names, faces, ranks, service branches and small nuggets about the men and women who have served our country. Along the way, we discovered some magnificent stories that we were lucky to tell. We found a local man who was once considered a “ghost” in Waco. We found a pilot who survived missions that few others did. We found families with long lineages of service to country.
Most important, though, is we found a connection among hundreds, even thousands, of people in our community – people who have the commonality of service.
When you consider the pride of publishing a community newspaper, and community books like “Our Veterans,” that’s really the pinnacle. Our job has always been to bring people in this community together, and “Our Veterans,” and the people who made this happen, have created a product that will last for generations to come.
If you’re interested in a copy, you can always email me at the address below, or call our office at (713) 686-8494.