In an age when journalists seem to come and go at newspapers on a regular basis, it is quite an achievement when one stalwart journalist is able to celebrate 30 years with one newspaper.
That’s the situation with veteran journalist and publisher Ivan Foley at the weekly Landmark newspaper in Platte County, MO. Not only is Foley celebrating three decades of service, but the Landmark recently celebrated its own 148-year anniversary.
In a note to readers Foley said things have certainly changed in his time at the Landmark.
“Thirty years ago I reported for work in the historic Landmark building not knowing a single soul in Platte County,” he wrote. “Things have certainly changed in that regard.”
Even though he admits that he felt he would work at the paper for the summer and seek out greener pastures, he has no regrets at staying at the paper.
“That summer has turned into a 30-year career, and I’m sure much to the chagrin of many elected officials, there is no end in sight,” he noted. “The thickness of our paper this week–with a record five advertising inserts tucked inside–and an unprecedented amount of advertising support each week from businesses around the county are signs
“The Landmark is doing well in a climate that has not been kind to some media outlets, especially the daily newspapers. We humbly thank our advertisers. And our readers? We work for you. Thanks for coming along for what is never a boring ride.”
Foley was gracious enough to answer a number of questions from Bottom Line Communications:
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE JOINING THE LANDMARK?
I grew up in a family newspaper business. My dad owned three weekly newspapers and a central printing plant, which exposed me to every possible aspect of the business beginning at an early age, everything from cleaning machinery to writing stories and opinion columns to helping run presses of all sizes. When my dad died of a heart attack at age 50 in 1980, my mother who had never worked outside the home took over ownership. A few of my siblings and I had to step up at an early age to keep the
businesses flowing smoothly.
After a year at Missouri Western State College, I came to The Landmark in the summer of ’82 at age 19 and immediately began covering everything from county commission meetings to high school sports and have been here since. I took over as editor in 1993 and I purchased the business and the Landmark building from my mother in 2002.
WHAT IS THE BACKGROUND OF THE LANDMARK?
The Landmark, established in the closing days of the Civil War in 1865, is in its 148th year of continuous weekly publication. It is one of the oldest newspapers in the state, older than the KC Star. The Landmark has operated from its current location in downtown Platte City for more than 110 years. Much of the old-time printing equipment such as a Linotype machine, handset type in the old printing cabinets, and even a large sheet-fed press from the 1890s are still located in our office.
Proud to say that we renovated the front of the building, returning it to its original brick appearance, in 2008, investing in downtown Platte City. That project earned us the Paxton Award for historical preservation from the City of Platte City.
HOW MANY STAFFERS DOES THE LANDMARK HAVE?
Hah, depends on how you define staffers. My office manager of 20 years, Cindy Rinehart, and I are the only full timers but we have plenty of help from two part time reporters (Valerie Verkamp and PJ Rooks), another staffer or two who help with distribution on Wednesdays, and 4-6 folks who aid the cause each week with photography and as contributing columnists.
I always have my eye open to potential contributors and over the years we’ve been able to add high quality folks like my buddy Greg Hall, whose wildly popular “Off the Couch” column drives a ton of traffic to our web site; former Star guy Hearne Christopher does a weekly column of ‘around KC’ material; a local Republican leader (James Thomas) writes a weekly political piece; and columnist Brian Kubicki touches on topics that tweak the liberals.
In recent months we’ve added a couple of new faces: a licensed private investigator (Ron Rugen) to do background work and even pen a few stories for us; and after reading the wit of Chris Kamler on Twitter (@TheFakeNed) I asked him to become a contributor. Chris has quickly built an audience among Landmark readers. It was flattering a few years ago when we had an opening come up for a spot on one of our editorial pages and conservative talk radio star Chris Stigall, then at KCMO-AM in Kansas City and now in Philadelphia, expressed to a mutual friend that he would be interested in coming on board The Landmark. We hammered out a deal and Chris has been with us ever since, first as a weekly contributor while he was in KC, now once-amonth from Philly.
HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO KEEP THE PAPER GOING WHEN SO MANY HAVE FALLEN BY THE WAYSIDE OVER THE YEARS?
People are always hungry for local news, so that’s where it will always start for us. We’re heavy into local politics, investigative local journalism, and local crime coverage. The Landmark isn’t shy about holding public officials’ feet to the fire for spending decisions, spending priorities, and open meetings, and folks around the Northland have come to expect us to be the watchdog on those matters. It sounds cliche but it’s accurate to say we work for our readers. People respect the fact we go to bat for them and
their tax dollars. Our editorial pages promote smaller government and fiscal responsibility, and that’s a message that resonates with a lot of folks right now.
Even many of the folks who at first were made uncomfortable by The Landmark’s aggressive local news approach now embrace it and look forward to each issue, knowing it’s never going to be a snoozefest.
I think another thing we have going in our favor is that we incorporate the use of humor and personality into our coverage and into our columns. In The Landmark, it’s okay to have a little fun, it’s okay to write a column or an opinion piece with your tongue planted firmly in your cheek, it’s okay to inject a bit of humor into almost any situation. We’re all human, we all enjoy a laugh or a smile. There’s no reason a newspaper can’t put a smile on a reader’s face at least once an issue.
YOUR NEWSPAPER SEEMS TO WIN A LOT OF AWARDS…
The Landmark is a consistent winner of multiple awards in the annual Better Newspaper Contest sponsored by the Missouri Press Association, and we’re most proud of the award we received last year for general excellence. Our editorial pages are also consistent winners in the contest. Our veteran contributing photographer, Bill Hankins, wins multiple awards each year for his work and is a member of the Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Fame.
WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF WEEKLY PUBLICATIONS?
Many weeklies are still quite strong. A good number of the weeklies that have shut it down were weeklies that had been purchased by dailies in recent years. The management folks brought in by the daily groups were often out of touch and could never really get a grasp on what news content would work for them, in my opinion, which led to struggles and the ownership eventually just shutting them down.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Personally, I don’t like to sit still and have no plans to slow down. I’m a cancer survivor (Hodgkins lymphoma) which helps me to enjoy and appreciate every day.
We’ll keep doing what we do. The Landmark is stronger than ever with a broader reach and larger readership than ever before Twitter (Twitter.com/ivanfoley) has been a great tool for us the past few years. Our web site (plattecountylandmark.com) has always been a traffic-getter, thanks to strong editorials that get linked by many popular bloggers and thanks to Greg Hall’s popular Off the Couch sports media sound bite contribution.
I suppose if we did have a particular goal in the near future it would be to figure out a way to turn the web site into a direct revenue-generator instead of just an awareness enhancement for our printed product. I’m not sure there are many–if any-weeklies that have found a way to earn significant revenue from their web sites.