Monday, October 12, 2009

Laid-off big-city reporter turns small rural weekly into a living, and even inspires his competitor

Two months ago today we passed along the tale of M.E. Sprengelmeyer, who bought a small weekly newspaper in New Mexico when the Rocky Mountain News closed, ending his job as the paper's Washington correspondent. Today Richard Pérez-Peña of The New York Times gave us an encouraging update on Sprengelmeyer and the Guadalupe County Communicator, circulation maybe 2,000, maybe less. (Times photo by Rick Scibelli Jr.: Sprengelmeyer and draft page layouts on paper plates)

"Of the thousands of paths taken by journalists who have been cast off by shrinking metropolitan newspapers, Mr. Sprengelmeyer’s is one of the more unusual, and one of the more hopeful," Pérez-Peña reports. "While bringing some big-city professionalism to a distinctly small-time operation, he says he is making enough money to support himself, and he has been able to assign some freelance work to a few underemployed former colleagues."

Sprengelmeyer has improved the paper, ended its alliance with a City Hall faction, boosted circulation and gained the public respect and admiration of his competitior, Santa Rosa News Editor Roberto Martin Marquez, who wrote in his weekly, “M. E. is making me a better newspaper man.” Sprengelmeyer has thus confounded the usual scenario for competing weeklies in small towns, in which competition may make them keener to find news but often leaves them short of the resources needed to finance and capable reporting. We liked that part of the story a lot, but liked this part even more:

The experience has made him an evangelist for small-town papers, which he says offer a hidden opportunity for unemployed journalists, but he acknowledges it isn’t for everybody. He works to the brink of exhaustion, fueling late-night production sessions with nicotine and caffeinated energy drinks. After a few hours’ sleep, he makes a three-hour, round-trip drive to pick up his press run in Clovis, where the paper is printed. “I couldn’t do this if I had a family,” he said. “But it feels like it matters, and I’m having fun.”

If you're a laid-off journalist, one who fears being laid off or just wants to share Sprengelmeyer's "fantasy" of owning your own newspaper, drop us a line. UPDATE: CNN profiles Sprengelmeyer.

1 comment:

Brad Martin said...

I've worked in a big-city environment, but that never has come close to the experience of working where everyone knows you -- and you never know when a visitor or a phone-caller or a grocery-store "Hello" will be followed by a compliment, a criticism, a story or even -- my favorite -- "How are your kids?" Just today, I got a compliment from an attorney I'd never met before. Every single day is different, and mostly rewarding.

I'd urge my colleagues from the big-city world to come on down to a weekly, where you can sometimes feel the impact of your work.

BRAD MARTIN, Hickman County Times, Centerville TN