Farewell to a county tradition

By Dennis Minich

It was sad looking at the final edition of The Cass County Democrat-Missourian last week. For nearly a century and one-
half, a newspaper flagged with the Democrat name had been published in the county. Many knew it simply as the county paper and with its coverage area it indeed was.

I have the Democrat-Missourian to thank for moving my family to the area and getting me started in the local journalism scene almost exactly 30 years ago. It was obvious from the beginning the paper was a top-notch publication which was widely respected throughout the area.

For three years, it was my honor to serve as the editor of the paper. I had spent a lifetime in the field, but it was the first time I had ever been charged with running the editorial operation. While I think I knew a lot going in, I learned a great deal more. I think one of the most-striking lessons is no matter what you do, you can’t please everyone. Which is actually a truism to the field of journalism: If we are doing our job some people are not going to be happy with us.

When I first started at the Democrat, Linda Thompson was another of the reporters on the staff. She also served as the editor of the paper for several years. We both have memories, good and bad, of our time at the paper, but I believe we both share a disappointment with its passing. For many years the paper had been vibrant, telling the stories not only of local governments and boards, but of people and things in the community.

Sadly, the business element of the journalism world creeped in and the grand old lady in local news withered up. In 2000, the paper was purchased by The Kansas City Star and its parent company, Knight-Ridder. For nearly three decades, the Star was prohibited from purchasing other papers in the area as part of a legal settlement. That prohibition was lifted and the company purchased several older papers including The Olathe Daily News, The Belton Star-Herald, The Lee’s Summit Journal and the Democrat.

The problem with large newspaper chains is the local connections are lost. Everything about the paper is based on the bottom line and not necessarily the profitability of each individual paper, but the chain as a whole. When part of the market goes bad, it drags everything down with it which is much of what happened with The Star and the “Baby Stars.” One by one they have all met the same fate. It is actually pretty easy to see that The Democrat was just a shell of a paper for the past several years. It was because of the declining news content and local advertising that the county paper lost its favor. The circulation of the paper had dwindled to virtually nothing.

But from failures come opportunities and that’s what we at The South Cass Tribune and Bates County Tribune feel we had, an opportunity to return to old-fashioned journalism and give readers local news and local advertisers a place to display their wares.

Linda and I have worked to keep some of the successful elements of the “old Democrat days” as well as some new and improved ideas.

We still have a lot of things to improve. We know that. We are working hard to get more involved in the communities we serve. We don’t want to just show up when things are bad, we want to tell the good stories too.

While other papers complain about how bad things are, we are growing and looking for ways to expand our product. It’s not going to happen overnight, but I can promise each and every one of you we are going to do everything we can to bring you an interesting and home-grown product every week.

I will put out the appeal we share constantly: we want your news. Weddings, anniversaries, job promotions, club and civic group news; people you know with interesting hobbies or jobs; awards; interesting pictures or stories. Share them with us.

You can always email tips to news@southcasstribune.com or call or mail us, the numbers are at the bottom of this page. We want everyone to feel they have a vested interest in the paper.

This week we are saddened to say goodbye to The Democrat-Missourian, a paper which served this community for many years. But we are thankful for the lessons and the marketplace the paper left and we hope those lessons will help us provide you the best-possible product every week.