A real-life Clark Kent, Goldfish crackers, hidden alcohol and a sense of service
Friday, June 16
3:45 p.m., Lewisville Texan-Journal, Lewisville, Texas
Lewisville, Texas is a suburb of Dallas/Fort Worth. It has a dog park, skate park, drive-in theater and rodeo arena.
Although Lewisville is filled with characters, none beat the editor of one newspaper, Steve Southwell, an unassuming man who is a clearly a bit bold. In fact, one of the first things I said to him was, “You’re a litle bit nuts.”
I’m not a great conversation starter.
Back in 2015 when many newspapers were gasping for one last breath of air or had been six feet under for years, he started a print edition to accompany the existing Lewisville Texan-Journal website. When everyone else rushed out, he jumped in with a rudimentray printer and stapled first edition.
When the first editon was complete, he celebrated with a shot from his stash of alcohol from the local distillery. (Something I’ve noticed is that all newsrooms have snacks — goldfish are so popular I often wonder if journalist are all just big preschoolers, except for the other constant, hidden alcohol.) Lewisville has a winery, distillery and brewery and all of them carry the Lewisville Texan-Journal.
The only journalism training Southwell had was a semster of journalism in high school.
By day he is a computer programmer. By night he fights injustice in city hall (and school boards, etc.) through journalism. He’s the Clark Kent of Lewisville.
The Lewisville Texan-Journal website started as a “crappy” opinion blog in 2004 and quickly morphed into a news site.
“We were already writing news, so how hard could it possibly be to put it on paper,” he said, shaking his head, followed by a comment about his own naiveté.
Digital to print is not the traditional way to do it. Then again, Steve is a democrat in Texas. But, he points out, a democrat that people in the community seem to respect. I asked him about checking his bias at the reporting door. “Life and Liberty in the Lone Star State” is Southwell’s paper/website tagline. He knows he is not always going to popular in the community and he understands that, but Southwell fiercely defends his reporters.
“All if can tell you is we’ve done our homework, we know it’s true. Our reporting is from practical sources. If they don’t like it, unlike us. Go away. We don’t care.”
Lewisville is bucking the trend as a two-newspaper town. The Lewisville Leader is the older, established newspaper.
“We work harder because they are there and I hope they work harder because we are here,” he said.
Like any good newsman, he gets a glimmer in his eye when he talks about breaking a news story, such as the gas drilling underneath the lake that serves as a water source for Lewisville and Dallas
“We beat all the outher outlets to it and that was because we had relationships embedded in the community,” he said.
His biggest challenge? “Money and time,” he quickly answered. “If we had more money we would have more time. I am not a sales person. I suck at selling ads.”
He tossed around the idea of going nonprofit.
“The mission is not to make money off of ads,” he said. “It’s kind of a necessity that allows us to do our mission. In the business of news they will say, ‘Your readers are your product, not your audience. You’re selling your readers to the advertisers’ and I just can’t get behind that. That’s why our cover price is free.”
He serves the public, and pointed to the necessity of community news covering what matter to people on a day-to-day basis, where political squabbling among politicians must get put aside.
“At the end of the day, budgets have to get pased. They have to. There’s no democratic or republican way to fix a street,” he says of covering local politics.
The Lewisville Texan-Journal is hidden. It is small. You would never be able to locate the newspaper if you didn’t know it was there and, respecting his wishes, I will keep the location secret. However, it looks nothing like a newspaper buidling and is unmarked, just the way the staff wants it. Anyone who has covered community news knows that the death knell of privacy and work flow is constant interruption. And, while he is a staunch defender of Lewisville and its residents and wants to serve them, he wants to discuss issues by mail, email or offsite somewhere.
As he spoke, I thought about the recent death threats the Sacramento Valley Mirror newspaper received and wondered if more newsrooms should follow this policy.
Next in the #followmylede series: The media is disparaged until the public needs information (and a cute teddy bear to keep things light)