By Darryl L. Fleurs
I had been on the road all day. The night was well spent when I left the freeway to take the Carthage, Missouri exit. I was looking for a place to sleep.
I noticed a motel sign and pulled over. It was an older motel, but the grounds were clean and, according to the information on my cell phone, the place was inexpensive. I never saw the need to pay for “the ambiance” for a room that I would only use while getting some sleep.
I checked in my room. I needed to find a grocery store to find detergent – the hotel has a laundromat so I could wash clothes before I hit the road.
When I leave the room to get into my truck, the smell of cigarettes is still in the air, and just as strong. And, like before, I don’t see a soul puffing anywhere.
Once in the truck, I use my phone to find the nearest grocery store. When I see the results in Google Maps, I am sure there is something wrong with Google. Up displays a map on my phone with grocery stores named “Supermercado Guerrero”, “Super Services Siempre”, “La Altena”, “Supermercado Coatepeque” and “La Tiendita”. Guess something went wrong and Google was showing me grocery stores in a city in Mexico.
When I relaunched Google Maps I saw the same store names, but scrolling a little further down the list I see the address for “King Cash Saver”. The store is only a few blocks away.
The next morning, I did a few loads of laundry, packed my bags, and went to visit the local newspaper.
In the light of day, Carthage is a pretty city.
My search for the Carthage Journal returned two results, “The Mornin ‘Call” and “The Carthage Press”. From what I could tell, the hurry had been closed, but it appeared that the Morning call was still printing.
Carthage, Missouri has a nice downtown area. When you leave the square and walk away from the city center, you go down a steep hill and turn onto rue Lyon. There you will find an old building restored with a classic window art style identifying it as the office of the “Morning Call.”
When I walked into the office, print samples were on the shelves. I can see a large digital press. I guess like The Fairfield Sun Times, the Morning call probably makes a commercial print on the side to keep the lights on.
Joseph Perdomo greeted me on entering. I introduced myself and explained to Joseph that I was on my way to Tennessee and during my trip I was visiting the newspapers to get a feel for the health of the printed newspapers.
Perdomo said no, it wasn’t a newspaper. He’s a commercial printer. He bought the building from the previous owner as well as the name of the newspaper, “Mornin ‘Call”.
Perdomo told me he had time for a chat and asked his press officer, who was retired from Joplin’s globe newspaper near Joplin, Missouri to join the conversation.
“The Morning ‘Call” is hard to find. It appears to be a small post. There is a website, and an e-mail bounced for some time to an address on the site goes unanswered. I have not been able to find a reference to the article in other posts.
The Carthage press dates back to 1884. The newspaper was considered a daily, although it did not print a Sunday edition.
The Press was owned by Gatehouse Media when it closed in 2018.
According to Mark Elliff, president and CEO of the Carthage Chamber of Commerce, The Carthage Press suffered a slow death. He went from six days a week to five. The newspaper abandoned its media and began sending the newspaper to readers.
Then the press switched to a weekly publication serving a town of 15,500 inhabitants.
The newspaper was closed, only to come back to life briefly when local owners, RH Media Group, took it over. In January 2019, The Carthage Press published the last printed edition.
Elliff told The Sun Times in a phone interview that the Chamber of Commerce and The Carthage Press have a close relationship. Elliff also said the House had conducted an investigation, asking the community what news they wanted to read. The answer, Elliff said, was “kids, sports, community and obits.”
Nearby, in Joplin, Missouri, the local newspaper, The Joplin Globe, has gone from seven days a week to five, and has also dropped drop shipping by carrier. Now readers receive their newspaper by post.
About 25 miles south, in Neosho, Missouri, the Neosho Daily News had a history dating back to 1904-1905. The bi-weekly newspaper ended up being owned by Gannett (Gannett, who merged with Gatehouse, owns The Great Falls Tribune). The newspaper was closed, only to be bought by local owners and brought back to life.
On my way to visit the Mornin ‘Call, I toured Carthage. Before I left the hotel, and after finding the number of grocery stores with Hispanic names that dominated the area, I did some research and found that according to the most recent census, the population of Carthage was over 32 % Hispanic.
Carthage is a nice city. At a local car wash, I visited a few locals. I discovered that Montana vehicle tags, like a Tennessee accent, can be a real icebreaker.
The feeling is that the locals are proud of their community and miss their newspapers, but they expect their papers to serve them … the locals.
In my walk around Carthage, I saw streets lined with the occasional “shotgun huts”. Then there are the streets with big and expansive houses.
Most of the residential streets were lined with neat bourgeois houses.
Now there are some who can choose any of these observations. But, the point is that if I had driven the streets of Carthage 50 years ago, I would have seen the same conditions, and whether it was today, or in 1972, I would have seen the same in n ‘any community of 15,500 inhabitants.
At the NAPA store just up the street from my hotel, the text on the sign is in Spanish. I’m not sure, but I think the post congratulated a local youth.
All over the region there are businesses with Hispanic names or with signs in Spanish.
When I asked Perdomo if the Carthage newspapers had done a good job in serving the local community, he told me no. I ask them how they served the Spanish speaking community of Carthage. They haven’t even tried.
I told Perdomo that I had worked at two newspapers before coming to Montana, which also missed the opportunity to serve their fastest growing segment of the population: Hispanics.
In Columbia, Tennessee, I told the editor of the Columbia Daily Herald that the newspaper should devote part of a newspaper once a week to the Hispanic community. “Our readers would be outraged,” was the response of Mark Palmer, who was one of the best publishers I have ever worked for. – No, I tell him. “Look at customers at Hispanic-owned businesses; there are as many Americans as Hispanics. We are missing a large and growing part of the population.
The Daily Herald is a ghost of itself. They have lost their press. They lost their building.
During my conversation with Perdomo, I told him that even if a newspaper hired a Spanish speaking reporter to cover the Hispanic community, he would be reluctant to step out of his comfort zone. “To be successful in the Hispanic community,” I said, “you have to hire someone who understands the culture. Instead, the editors will hire the first student they find whose only qualifications are that they took four years of Spanish in school and spent a week in Cancun for their spring break. Hispanics will spot a fake a mile and a half away. He accepted.
As I began to conclude my conversation with Joseph Perdomo, he asked me a question that took me by surprise. “Do you think a new newspaper here could be successful? “Yes,” I say. I could see that Perdomo was running a successful business. Contrary to what many in our business will try to tell you, managing a journal is not rocket science.
When I leave the printing house, I head to Mis Arcos, a local Mexican restaurant. With the exception of a few trips to Tennessee and one trip to Arizona, California and Nevada in 2009, this will be my first “real” Mexican food in a long time.
Mis Arcos was packed with people at lunchtime. Even though they have a large buffet, I ordered from the menu. The guests were mostly Americans, to a large extent. They were busy but the wait was short and when my tacos, cheese enchiladas and frijoles came out of the kitchen they didn’t disappoint.
I hope Joseph Perdomo will start a newspaper in Carthage. I believe the residents and the business community now understand what they are missing, and I believe he has the passion for his community to make it work.