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© Lawrence Journal World

A 20,000 circulation Daily takes care of its community (and convergence)

Introduction by Dirck Halstead

Biographies of LJW Photographers

One Fine Small-Market Newspaper - Tom Eblen

"My Grandfather and father both told me, 'Dolph, you take care of Lawrence, and Lawrence will take care of you.' "

Dolph Simons, Jr, is the third generation of his family to serve as editor and publisher of the Lawrence Journal World. Situated between Topeka and Kansas City, Mo in northeast Kansas, the 20,000-circulation daily might easily be mistaken for just another small town newspaper. In reality, it's a beacon for journalistic talent, a stronghold of principle and tradition and most unlikely of all, an example of how newspapers should be serving their community, with an eye on the future of media.

W.C. Simons, the current publisher's grandfather, arrived in Lawrence driving a horse and buggy and had $50 in his pocket when he started The Journal World in 1891. At the time, the town boasted eight newspapers and Simons intended to start number nine.

Under his editorship, which he eventually passed on to his son Dolph C. Simons, the paper has not only survived but thrived over the years. The Journal World has operated with a clear understanding of its mission to serve the community in ways that the larger papers surrounding it couldn't. Lawrence is also home to the University of Kansas, a highly regarded educational facility that also has a reputation for outstanding basketball teams.

In the years following World War II, Lawrence grew at a rate of 1,000 people a year, which has continued unabated. Dolph Simons, Jr, understood the importance of this , at a time when many small towns were losing their populations. The Journal- World announced that fact with a page one headline, "Lawrence is Growing " . In 2001, The Journal World announced the beginning of a major series, that would dominate the newspaper, News6, and the online edition with a page one headline, "Lawrence is Growing!" The mission it stated in a sub-head, was to "recognize that Lawrence is growing and will continue to grow, and to provide a forum for the open exchange of ideas, comments, suggestions, opinions, complaints and issues with the goal of affirming common ground among a diverse community."

Tom Eblen, a former Kansas City Star editor who recently retired as a KU journalism professor thinks the Journal-World is unique in its approach to journalism. "No other paper around here has done anything like that," he said.

As the town grew, the paper grew with it. Simons believed in attracting world-class talent to his city room. In 1993 he reached out to Bill Snead, a 21-year Washington Post veteran who had just been named White House News Photographer of the Year . Snead, a Lawrence native had started his journalism career at the Journal- World in 1954. He had gone on to run the Saigon bureau for United Press International and had been a picture editor at National Geographic. He was ready to come home, and take on the challenge of running the newsroom. Snead breathed new life into the paper.
"What Bill did was to put the paper on the map," says Eblen. "You have to respect what he did. He has remarkable intuition, great graphic sense, and most important, the full support of Dolph, which is very relevant"

"Dolph is among the most future-oriented people in the industry", says Tom Curley, the new president of The Associated Press. "He is constantly on a search for the ways to improve his operations." While Snead was lighting creative fires, Simons was searching for ways to keep on top of a rapidly changing media landscape. He was one of the first in the state to invest in cable systems, and today Lawrence serves the community with one of the finest small-market cable operations in the country.

Meanwhile, they were also keeping their eyes on the emergence of the World Wide Web. Under the leadership of executive web producer Rob Curley, they designed a web site for the paper that immediately started to garner national awards. For Curley, the key to success was simplicity itself. "You need to know what the 10,000 pound gorilla is for your community and with us, it's the Jayhawks." He stared to design deep websites that could offer Jayhawks fans anything they needed to know about their favorite team, including plays, photo stories and seating charts.

"I realized that doing world-class journalism has absolutely nothing to do with how many papers you sell on Sunday," says Curley. "I also realized that this may not be the best place to practice journalism in Kansas, but may be the best place in the world. There may not be another paper like this."

Then there is that word that sends panic into the heart of the most intrepid reporter..convergence!

One of the most daunting challenges facing Managing Editor Ric Brack as he moved into his job, was how to overcome the natural antipathy that traditional newsmen felt towards interfacing with their TV brethren ."Working closely with TV was a big change for us" says Brack. "It had been engrained in our minds that we were to compete with TV. Competition is good. Suddenly we went to sharing everything. Now we were going to tell our News 6 people not only what we were going to cover, but maybe cover it ourselves. We had an example in the past few months where one of our reporters wouldn't even tell us the story he was working on, because he was afraid we would break it on line. We had a discussion with him. Since then its gotten a lot better, and the thing that helps now is the public gets to see the face of the person who writes for the paper. We now have stories in the paper by News 6 reporters. The challenge was to get people to trust and respect each other. Getting everyone in one newsroom has been a big help. We have a writer, Mark Fagan, who we call "the converged reporter". He realized that in many ways the TV people have it a lot tougher. If you are a newspaper reporter, you pick up the phone, take notes, and write a story. In TV, that's not a story. That's getting ready to do a story. After our people have done a few stories on TV, it's no big deal. I think attitudes around here have changed a lot."

Simons winces when he hears how so many newspapers, especially national chains are driven to boost their profit margins to 40% or more. "I am a firm believer that excellence will be the quality of those who succeed versus those who are willing to indulge mediocrity. Complacency will kill us."

According to Eblen, "It is clear to me that Dolph made a commitment to outstanding performance, not only in print, but on the cable channel, which is much better than we can expect, and on line. The only way to do that is not just let money flow to the bottom line."

The Journal-World's printing plant , one of the best in the midwest, also prints the company's five Lawrence area weeklies and USA Today . As the importance of photographs became obvious, Simons insisted that the paper would print directly from the plates, something few papers would do, which resulted in excellent reproduction.

Photographers, under Snead, were encouraged to take spend more time on stories. Because of his years working in Washington, he also encourages world-class photographers to allow the Journal-World to print their stories. Recently, David Hume Kennerly was featured in two full-page layouts, one on inside the war decisions at the Pentagon, and another on an essay he did on the Supreme Court.

Keeping their eye on convergence, the paper sent staff photographer Mike Yoder to the first Platypus Workshop. The videos the photographers produce are not only used on the paper's web site, but also by the cable TV channel. The main purpose of getting the video training was not so much what the paper could use immediately, but how it could position itself for the future, as broadband entered more of its reader's homes.

It is just this kind of focus on the future that makes this little newspaper stand out.
As Simons says, "We have to drive with our brights, we can't drive with our dims.
We have to be able to see down the road."

© 2003 Dirck Halstead


See the Video: Conversations with Bill Snead & Interviews with Dolph, Curley, and Brack of the Lawrence Journal-World


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Bill Snead - Senior Editor

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Dolph Simons, Jr. - Publisher

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Rob Curley - Online Editor

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Ric Brack - Managing Editor

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Enter Driving With Your Brights On - Lawrence Journal World

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