By Jeff Smith
Mayor Craig Swancy recently expressed his displeasure with the Weatherford Democrat on his Facebook page. He said our editorial page had become too liberal, the news pages lacked local content and our circulation was in a death spiral.
The Mayor is entitled to his opinion. As are others who feel the same way about their hometown paper. That’s the beauty of the First Amendment and its free speech clause. Everyone can have their say.
Normally, we would not respond to an attack on the paper. A newspaper and the community can learn from listening closely to their critics. That’s why we publish comments from readers in our letters to the editor column, in guest columns and on our website and social media sites. That’s also why we encourage phone calls, emails and visits from readers.
But we also need a sense of perspective. Comments suggesting we are not serving readers by publishing opinion columns not everyone agrees with, or failing to cover important news of the community and that we are destined for extinction require fact-based answers.
Our editorial page contains our editorial opinion and local commentary, including those of national columnists. We deliberately balance the content to represent all sides of the political spectrum. The purpose is to stimulate discussion and present varied viewpoints.
Whether it be Taylor Armerding on the conservative aisle or Cokie and Steve Roberts of a liberal bent, we strive to inform. Still, not every column or columnist will appeal to everyone. Last week’s opinion page, for example, had roughly a 70/30 split in favor of conservative viewpoints.
Whenever readers strongly agree or disagree with our editorial opinion or that of our columnists, we want to encourage them to write a signed letter to the editor and speak out. Our letters column is open to everyone regardless of their political ideology. We do not want a close-minded opinion page.
As for local news and photographs, we take seriously our responsibility to cover the community as thoroughly as possible. We are Parker County’s only daily newspaper, and that requires reporting on four city governments, seven school districts, three private schools and county government. We do all of this with four reporters, who also take photographs, and they work hard.
As a testament to our local commitment examine last week’s five editions of the paper. We published more than 45 local news and sports stories and items, covered four events and highlighted five news features. We also published stories that affect readers from our state capital reporter in Austin and our Washington correspondent.
Over the past year, we have produced several local watchdog stories and enterprise work. Yes, these can be uncomfortable topics but they are the type of information the community needs to know.
Two stories that had a direct impact on the community come to mind. The article about the early release of John Paul Webb who was serving a 20 year sentence in connection with the death of his month-old son. The story resulted in the Parker County District Attorney’s Office asking the state to reconsider and it did, keeping Webb in jail where he belongs. The second story involved the Texas Neighborhood Services’ loss of the Head Start program in Parker and eight neighboring counties for not following guidelines for bonus payout to employees. This directly impacted local families and the education of their children. The paper’s coverage spotlighted the problem.
Circulation and readership is an evolving aspect of our business operation. Mayor Swancy is simply wrong in saying it is falling and failing.
Yes, our print subscribers have contracted over the last several years due to the emergence of the Internet. But our overall reach has never been stronger. Many people have moved to reading their news on our website and with mobile devices rather than in print. We still serve 6,000 print readers daily, supplemented by more than 68,000 unique visitors to our website monthly.
Thanks to our subscribers and the many local businesses that advertise with the paper and online, we are able to continue to provide timely and thorough coverage of Weatherford and environs. We are solid as a rock and plan to stay that way.
The mayor’s prediction of our death is disconcerting because we are a 121-year-old local business that employs 20 fulltime people. Is it really appropriate for the mayor to suggest on social media we are going out of business because he is unhappy with the paper? Would he or has he done that to any other business?
The fact he did so strikes us as unnecessary. He can question our content without getting personal to the point of forecasting our demise.
If his purpose was to goad us into improving the paper, he could have reached out with a phone call or, better yet, a visit to the paper. My door is always open.
Jeff Smith is the publisher of the Weatherford Democrat.