The Democrat-Leader stops publication after 144 years

Today is the last issue of the Democrat Leader. After 144 years we will stop publishing the Democrat Leader, with today being the last issue.  The decision to stop publishing a twice weekly newspaper in Howard County was not taken lightly.  It was a hard decision to make for historical and sentimental reasons.  However, it was an easy decision to make for financial reasons.  Revenues, news content and our subscriber base does not support a twice weekly newspaper in Howard County in 2017.  Since 2001 Fayette newspapers’ revenue has dropped to the point that publishing two newspapers does not make economic sense.  This decision should have been made in my opinion, in 2001 and again during the recession of 2008.  And again in 2011 when Ruth and I bought the newspapers.
During the process of purchasing the newspapers, I sent all the financial reports and research that I had done leading up to our purchase to a friend of mine, Rollie Hyde (Rollie was a 50 year veteran of the newspaper industry who passed away in 2013).  Rollie liked all the demographics and knew that Fayette would support a newspaper.  Newspaper he said.  His advice to me was to go to a weekly newspaper, announce it in your first edition.  Hyde told me, “there is not enough revenue to support two.  Publish one and you will become profitable and increase the value of the newspaper.”  So, for 6 years and 6 months we have tried to increase revenues to the point that publishing two newspapers a week makes financial sense.  I failed at doing that.
We plan no changes to the Fayette Advertiser.  There will be no staff cuts or reduced hours for our staff.  Our news content or coverage area will not change, we will still be the leading and in most cases the only source of local news in Fayette and Howard County.  We have not raised prices for advertising since 2010.  We have tried to make advertising for everyone that needs to advertise.  Our subscription rates have not increased since 2011.  Again we want our newspapers to be affordable to everyone.
The decision to go to a weekly newspaper was a very difficult decision to make.  One that had to be made.  I know first hand and appreciate all the support that we have from our readers and advertisers.  The first question I was asked when we came to Fayette was were we going to continue to publish the newspaper twice a week.  And my answer was yes, for as long as we can.  Because remember, I believed that we could sell enough advertising to make two newspapers work.
I want to thank our current staff for all their hard work the last six years.  Our current staff of Linda Vroman has been with the newspaper since Denny Davis bought the newspaper, Mike Ursery our Sports Editor and Leslie Prothero our staff writer will  produce a great weekly newspaper.  The Howard County Livestock and Project edition published last week is an example of the quality of work they produce.
So farewell Democrat Leader you have served Howard County so well for 144 years.
The following is a short history of the Democrat-Leader.
The Democrat-Leader newspaper was the outcome of the consolidation of THE DEMOCRAT-BANNER (or DEMOCRATIC BANNER), established in 1874, and THE HOWARD COUNTY LEADER, established March 16, 1894, by the late Harry P. Mason (1866-1953), one of the other persons who was longtime owner and editor.
The later DEMOCRAT-BANNER was established in 1874 by James H. Robertson, with Fayette Banner Publishing Co. listed as the owner.  The Robertson biography in the 1883 History of Howard and Cooper Counties indicated that possibly he had also published a newspaper with a similar name prior to that. But “Picturesque Fayette” (1905) lists the 1874 date for establishment of the paper, known since the early days of ownership by Mr. Mason, as THE  DEMOCRAT-LEADER.
A list of Democrat Leader advertisers during the  period of 1911-12 included:  Commercial Trust Company, J.  Leon Rosse,   Armstrong & Tolson’s, Missouri Drug Co., C. C. Dimmitt Mercantile Co., The New York Racket, Fayette Lumber Company,  Marschall’s “The Harness Man on the Square, Dr. E. M. Blakey resident dentist, Geo. C. Crigler “The Old Auctioneer,” veterinarian Dr. A, J. Munn, Eubank Bros., Blackwell & Chenoweth, Asbury and Halley, “The Arcade,” Oldham the Jeweler and Kaufman the shoeman. I list these to make the point that there is only one of those businesses still in business.
The Democrat-Leader had been a competitor to the Advertiser since 1874, and in 1925 the two papers merged, with the Advertiser being bought-out by the Democrat-Leader.  Wirt Mitchell, had at that time been the publisher of the Democrat-Leader for about nine years.  He had attended Central College and, after a brief time in the in the insurance business in Macon, had bought the Democrat-Leader in 1916.  After the 1925 merger, everything was combined in the Commercial Trust Company basement, where the Advertiser’s offices were since the CTC building was built in 1910.  The newspapers continued to have their offices in the basement of CTC until April 1972.  The newspaper office then moved to 205 N. Main St.
The merger of 1925; the papers at the time of the merger had both been published on Thursday for the 50 years that they were competitors.  When Wirt Mitchell merged them, they became Wednesday and Friday newspapers.
The Mitchells published both papers until 1948, when he sold half interest to John Hert.  Mitchell died in December 1954, and John continued in partnership with Mrs. Mitchell until buying-out her interest in 1964.
In January, 1967, John Hert the publisher changed the publication dates.  The Advertiser became a Wednesday paper; the Democrat-Leader a Saturday paper.  Hert said the decision was based on advertising considerations.
Hert then ran the paper until 1984, when H. Denny Davis took ownership.  Jim Steele purchased the newspapers in December 2001.  Pat and Ruth Roll purchased the newspapers in February 2011.

4 Comments

  1. Jill Chandler on July 14, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    I was so sorry to learn about discontinuing the Democrat Leader, but certainly understand the reason. Perhaps our weekly will be a little plumper as a result.

  2. Sonya Russell on July 14, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    I know how difficult this decision must have been for you and I’m just so glad to hear you’ll continue to be a part of our community. Once a week will suffice, we will all adapt. Thanks to you and your staff and all past publishers. I look forward to seeing how it all turns out. Keep up the great work.

  3. John Hawkins on July 14, 2017 at 6:37 pm

    I applaud you for hanging with it for as long as you did. Lots longer than other, very much longer media formats.
    As a born and raised resident of Fayette until I left in 1967, I remember my father and I going down to the newspaper basement to “talk issues” with the owner/editor in the 50’s/60/s.
    Good Job.

  4. Charlie Coy on July 14, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    This is a sad occasion for all the subscribers. We lost our newspaper (The Chariton Courier) a few years ago. It was published in Keytesville. Now we are about to lose the whole town.

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