News of former and would-be employers

Readers know that the first newspaper job I ever had was a part-time sportswriting job in college.

Nearly all of my career I’ve worked in non-daily publications, except for 7½ months at the Beaver Dam Daily Citizen. The guy who hired me was Jeff Hovind, the editor. So this news from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association is sad to me:

Jeff Hovind, a Milwaukee native and former Wisconsin newspaper publisher and owner, died Thursday, Oct. 25 in Lincoln City, Oregon. He was 62.

After earning his journalism degree at UW-Eau Claire, Hovind started his career at the (Beaver Dam) Daily Citizen as a reporter and editor. He went on to serve as publisher of The (Waukesha) Freeman before purchasing the Merrill Courier.

Hovind, who moved with his wife Susan to Oregon in 2015, is remembered by colleagues for his journalistic passion.

“Jeff cared very much about local journalism and was a champion for open government,” said Bill Yorth, publisher and editor-in-chief for The Freeman. “I learned a lot from him. I always admired his dedication to the paper and to our profession.”

The Daily Citizen was, shall we say, an interesting place to work. Ninety minutes into my first day there someone tried to drive into the building. The driver was a job applicant who had a car whose engine would die when the car was taken out of Park, so she would gun the engine before shifting. Unfortunately for the building she shifted into Drive instead of Reverse, and the car jumped the parking lot curb and smacked into a floor-to-ceiling plate-glass window next to the ad manager’s desk. Fortunately for him the ad manager was out sick that day, but on my first day the newspaper was its own front-page news.

One early afternoon after that day’s paper was done I was sitting at my desk when I got an anonymous phone call with the ridiculous story that two eighth-grade girls had just gotten back from a bus trip to Mexico that resulted from their successfully claiming that they were the children of migrant farm workers who had left them in Wisconsin after the harvest season ended. Then when I started calling around I found out that the story may have been ridiculous, but it was true. One of the two apparently looked vaguely Hispanic, the other took Spanish class, and between the two of them they had convinced a Greyhound Bus terminal clerk and a police sergeant to put them on a bus to El Paso (where one of them had an aunt), whereupon they walked to the border into Mexico, came back and requested a ride home.

The Citizen was the most bureaucratic small business I had ever seen, and ever have seen since then. Somehow I got roped into the company’s Safety Committee, which meant I had to attend meetings with the publisher’s wife. Said publisher owned a late-1970s large Mercedes-Benz sedan, and as it turned out a few other management types, including Jeff, also owned Mercedes sedans, which appeared to me as the Cult of Mercedes.

One project I the education reporter worked on was an eight-day-long series about sex education in area schools. After the series the Citizen received a letter claiming that I was a liberal, which I imagine readers should find amusing. One thing I learned at the Daily Citizen was what we called The Fay Rule, named for one of our typesetters: If we put a name in a headline but Fay didn’t know who it was, the name had to be removed.

The funniest thing that happened was relatively late in my stay there. I was hired as the education reporter to replace another reporter who was moving to the police and courts beat. She then decided to leave, and she hosted a going-away party at her house in Watertown. The only person from the newsroom not at the party was the associate editor, who was legendary in the newsroom for speaking in clichés. Jeff brought a karaoke machine, and so over the course of several drinks each we composed The Tom Song, whose lyrics consisted completely of Tomspeak. Since we didn’t want him to feel left out, we called him around 10:45 p.m. and sang The Tom Song to him. On the other hand, the next day Tom was the only person in the newsroom who wasn’t hung over.

Jeff and his wife took me to lunch the next day and he seemed envious that I was getting into the world of newspaper ownership. (I should have told him it was overrated.) So I’m glad he got the publishing opportunity.

One of the Citizen’s competitors was the Watertown Daily Times, with which I interviewed twice, but the Times decided it was never time to hire me. Another competitor of the non-daily was the Dodge County Independent News in Juneau, which when I worked for the Daily Citizen was owned by Scott Fitzgerald, later to become state Senate Majority Leader. (Cue “It’s a Small World.”) Watertown is on the border of Dodge and Jefferson counties, which means that the Daily Times’ daily competition was the Daily Citizen to the north and the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson.

How do I wrap up every newspaper except the Citizen here? With this news:

Adams Publishing Group announced December 3, 2018 they have purchased the assets of the Watertown (WI) Daily Times and Dodge County Independent News from James M. Clifford. The Watertown Daily Times is published Monday through Friday and the Dodge County Independent News weekly. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Members of the Clifford family have owned the Watertown Daily Times since 1919. James Clifford, chairman of the company said that this was a difficult day for the family but felt the Times would be in a stronger position to compete in a challenging and fast changing competitive environment if it were part of a larger group. Clifford went on to say, “My family and I have enjoyed being stewards of this important community institution the past 99 years. We believe we have selected a new owner that will carry on in the best interests of Watertown, the readers of the Daily Times and our wonderful employees.”

Clifford’s son, Kevin is the fourth generation of the Clifford family to have worked at the company and currently serves as the Editor and Publisher. Both James and Kevin Clifford have served in leadership roles in a number of state and national newspaper organizations. …

Adams Publishing Group announced December 3, 2018 they have purchased the assets of the Daily Jefferson County Union and the affiliated Hometown News Limited Partnership from W.D. Hoard & Sons Company. The Daily Jefferson County Union and the affiliated Hometown News Limited Partnership publish 13 community newspapers and shoppers, stretching across parts of six counties in south central Wisconsin.

Brian Knox, president of W. D. Hoard & Sons Company, will continue to operate its other businesses including the Hoard’s Dairyman magazine, a magazine aimed at the dairy industry with world-wide distribution, other agricultural publications, a dairy farm, recently launched cheese products and other businesses.

The Daily Jefferson County Union was founded in 1870 by William Dempster Hoard. The Knox family eventually acquired the company from the Hoard family. Brian Knox, the second generation of the Knox family and current publisher, has been with the newspaper for the past 41 years.

Hometown News publishes the Sun Prairie Star, a twice-weekly newspaper, plus eight weekly newspapers: Milton Courier, Cambridge News/Deerfield Independent, Lake Mills Leader, Herald-Independent/McFarland Thistle (covering Monona, Cottage Grove and McFarland), Waterloo/Marshall Courier, Waunakee Tribune, DeForest Times-Tribune and the Lodi Enterprise/Poynette Press.

Knox said in a statement that his family’s interests are refocusing on other sectors of the company. “148 plus years ago this company was founded on community journalism. When I became publisher, almost all of the 37 daily papers in the state were independently owned, either as single papers or in small groups. Now there are fewer dailies and just a handful of independents left. One of the reasons for this is that in the 41 years I have been publisher, the industry has had to technologically re-invent the way we do business every three or four years to continue on. We have done this successfully and even our circulation numbers have fought the industry trend and grown the last few years. But the reality is that we’ve reached the point where we need to be much bigger to spread those costs and to take advantage of rapidly changing technologies.”

I suppose I should add that the newspapers mentioned two paragraphs ago were all competitors once upon a time too.


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