From Corporate Overlords To Ownership

July 1, 2021

I wanted to introduce you to another fellow in our second NewStart cohort. Brennan Stebbins, who lives in Joplin, Missouri, has been around community newspapers for seemingly his whole life. I mean, he wrote his first weekly column at the age of 14 for his hometown paper. He has earned regional and national recognition for editorial writing, has covered state government, higher education, city councils and school boards as well as high school and college athletics, and has even published a book. Big Red Dynasty: The Championships, Tradition and Dominance of Webb City Football, chronicles the history of the program and the school’s run of five-straight state championships. 

Let me pass the mic to Brennan and let him take it from here...

For a once proud newspaper with a history dating back more than 130 years, the end was swift. The announcement that the corporate-owned publication was shutting down for good came in a morning meeting with a regional publisher, who said the final edition had to be finished by early afternoon. Equipment was already being hauled out of the office before we were done that day.

Suddenly, after seven years working as a sports editor, I needed a new job at a time when other area newspapers were downsizing. I’ve worked as a freelance reporter and photographer since, but a years-long desire to own my own newspaper and try things a different way remains. 

The last decade has been an eye-opening experience. When I was hired, that newspaper printed five days a week and had a staff of at least nine people. When it closed it was a struggling weekly with two employees and many more empty desks. Decisions were made hundreds or thousands of miles away and never in the best interest of the local paper or its readers. A community that once considered the publication vital essentially shrugged its shoulders at the news it was closing. 

For someone who has grown up around newspapers, it was especially disappointing. But I know there is a future for local journalism and I want to be a part of it.

My introduction to the NewStart program came, fittingly, while reading a newsletter for the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, an organization that has promoted community journalism for decades. I knew immediately it would be a perfect fit. 

While I have years of experience with reporting, photography and page design, I want to learn how to own and operate a publication and discover new business models for local journalism. I want to be a part of something a community once again considers vital. The opportunities are there. 

Thanks Brennan! We're excited to have you as part of our program! This week Brennan and the rest of our second cohort kicked off the first class of the master's degree program in Media Solutions and Innovation from WVU's Reed College of Media. For more information on what's all involved, check out the program details here.