In January 2009, Roy and Jeannine Eaton sold the Messenger to Phil and Lesa Major.
Eaton was state chairman for the National Newspaper Association when he was elected Texas Press Association president.
He was inducted into the inaugural class of the Texas Newspaper Foundation Hall of Fame in 2007.
Eaton began his journalism career as a part-time reporter for radio station KXOL in Fort Worth in 1956, following his freshman year at Texas Christian University. While still a student at TCU, he was named news director of the station in 1958. He graduated in 1959.
In 1960 he was elected president of Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Association. He was president of North &_East Texas Press Association in 1983-84.
After a decade as news director of KXOL, Eaton became assistant to the president of Fort Worth’s largest Ford dealership. He moonlighted as the automotive editor of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram for more than eight years.
Eaton returned to news in 1968 as news director at WBAP, then owned by the Star-Telegram. He began directing television news coverage two years later.
He and Jeannine have been married since 1958. They have three sons.
Eatons sell Wise County Messenger to Phil & Lesa Majors:
Read Roy Eaton’s interview:
I’m Roy Eaton, I’m the publisher of the Wise County Messenger in Decatur, Texas.
I began my journalism career at the end of my freshman year at TCU when I went to work as a street reporter for a radio station in Fort Worth, and I worked there for 10 years. And then I wanted to learn television so in 1968, I went to WBAP-TV, which was the NBC affiliate in Fort Worth owned by the Star-Telegram. I went there as radio news director knowing that I wanted to learn television. So after a year as radio news director I evolved into the anchorman of a newscast at noon and then I switched entirely to a television side as director of television news coverage. And in that position I was in charge of all the camera crews and reporters that worked in both Fort Worth and Dallas. And I worked nights on that shift, it was a… And then I became the anchorperson of their 10o’clock news in the Dallas-Fort Worth market and did that until 1975.
In 1973 my wife and I had the opportunity to buy the Wise County Messenger, which – Wise County is my home, I was – So we were able to buy the newspaper. It was a very small newspaper, 2,500 circulation, once a week. I continued to work at the television station and by that time I had been moved to a daytime shift so I was able to drive from Fort Worth to Decatur which is about a 40-minute drive to even, to cover some nighttime events. My wife, she’s an accountant, and she would go up two or three days a week to handle all the accounting side.
So that was our start in the newspaper business. I knew nothing about that. I was not journalism major in college. I was a government and education major in college. And so I knew nothing about the technical side of newspapering.
The funny story I tell is that when I walked in on the day we bought the paper I looked at a Heidelberg Commercial Press and I asked the guy that I bought out if it were a paper cutter. [Laughter.] And I know, at that point, that he was delighted he was not carrying the note on the newspaper.
So we had a couple of fulltime employees. Our first editor was a young man named Ken Roselle who had worked in the public relations department at the University of Texas at Arlington and was an excellent photographer and a good writer. He’s still with us today, you know, 35 years later he is still there, doesn’t do the same things.
I left the television station in 1975. The Star-Telegram sold the TV station and at that time I was a, what they were calling only a talent employee because I was trying to transition from the TV station to the newspaper. We built our new home in Decatur, it was done in ’75 and we were able to move there.
So the new owners of the TV station decided that they didn’t want any just talent employees so that was really a good exit line for me. And the newspaper had grown a little bit so that we could afford to take salaries and so we did that. So in 1975, two years after we bought it, we took, you know, we were able to actually go to work there.
It’s been a very interesting career. We’ve been really blessed by a growing community, a growing county that is very interested in the news.
My theory has always been that if you cover the news properly the advertising will come. And me, knowing nothing about advertising, that has certainly been the case. And we have, have been very successful. In about 1985 we changed to a twice a week paper and that’s where we are today. I guess technically you could say three times a week we have a total market coverage product but we have really three deadlines, a Monday, Tuesday, and a Friday deadline.
A few years after we got there, Wise County did not have a radio station. Decatur is a very Forth Worth-oriented town. But we didn’t have a radio station so there was no way to do daily news. So we started a publication called the Messenger Update. It’s a single page publication that covers the news of the day.
For example, if we had had a Monday night City Council Meeting, that story comes in the Tuesday update. But our paper in those days went to bed on Tuesday night and so if something happened Wednesday morning there was no way for that story to get out. So we were able to do that.
Update continues today. It’s one of our most popular products, brings in revenue in excess of $150,000 a year. It is the foundation for our Web site because of the breaking news possibilities. And so our Web site, every morning we post the update on the Web site but by 8:00 in the morning and I still write it, starting at 7 — and it includes the daily news, it includes all the funeral notices, back before HIPA it included the hospital admissions. But so, today it forms the foundation of our Web site. And it allows us even during the day if something has happened an hour and a half or two hours after that we have breaking news capability which becomes the lead story. So I think that it, as a journalist, it is really the backbone of good journalism.
We have tried blogs and we’ve tried discussion forums and I’ve become very discouraged because they get so mean so quickly. And our system is just not right I don’t think for editing it properly so we’ve dropped that. I want to go back to it though. I think that we’re going to need to do it but they are so subject to highjacking by single-interest people.
So our newspaper has grown from a circulation of 2,500 when we bought it, and about ten pages, to more— to about 7,000 paid circulation. We seem to have hit a 7,000-circulation ceiling.
Our county is growing so much with people coming from Fort Worth that our challenge is to bring them in to be a part of our county when they’re still a part of Fort Worth.
So we developed a total market circulation project and it goes to non-subscribers called All Around Wise. And we did that about probably 15 years ago and it is very successful. It goes to 30,000 non-subscribers. It has become the product of choice for inserters, to Lowe’s and JC Penney and Home Depot, that’s where they want their product. So I think one of the interesting things that’s going to happen, particularly for those of us who are so close to the metro area, is whether we continue to be paid circulation products. I think perhaps that someday— We couldn’t do it today, we would lose our circulation revenue and our legal notices and probably cost us $300,000 a year in revenue, but I am just wondering if in the future we might not be a free cir— We’ll still be a real newspaper, but be a free circulation paper.
There’s a guy in Keller, Texas, named Bill Lewis who has set a really good standard for that. Keller is a very close suburb to Fort Worth. He knew he probably couldn’t build a paid circulation. Excellent newspaper but yet it has free circulation.
So I mean I think one of the great challenges we face is that— Another great challenge that we’re facing here in 2008, is the influx of large businesses who don’t necessarily know about the local papers and how important they are, what a good value we are.
We’re really lucky to have really a good strong commercial base in our own county but we need to reach out as JC Penney puts in a store on the north edge of Fort Worth, which they have done, and they’ve become inserters. So they understand all this, but we have.
The one employee we added in 2007 was on the Internet side. We added a person to work there. And I think we are slowly but surely making sure that we are not just a newspaper but we are the provider of news for our county on many different platforms. The printed word, the Internet, our little daily update, which we print 5,000 of those and deliver them around town. We fax them to another 150 people.
Maybe if we started Update today we wouldn’t do a printed version, we might just do an Internet version. But we sit there with 5,000 hits a day on our front page which includes the Update, so I think, you know for a town of our size, 6,000 people, 45 minutes from Fort Worth, the Internet is going to be a great way…
And young journalists today, we were talking earlier about convergence and I think that is one of the really great keys that young journalists need to know that when they come out of college, they’re going to have to have a lot of skills that can be, that can be directed toward a wide — even if they go to work for a community newspaper. They’re going to, their skills are going to need to be directed toward the Internet and I think that’s happening.
A lot of young people that we are able to hire, I mean that’s what they want to do, you know. They are excited about it. They’re excited to say okay if this is my weekend on scanner duty and there is a major fire I don’t want to wait until Monday to put it in Update or the next Wednesday to put it in the paper, I want to be able to go back to the house, use all the codes, download it from my personal computer onto our Web site. So that the people who heard those fire trucks or the people who saw the smoke can click on there and see what it was.
When I first went to work my — and its unusual for a radio station manager, in my experience, to be very interested in news. It’s just [sorry, background noise is taking over] and my guy, the manager of our radio station, he was interested in news. I’ll never forget when he hired me; he said, “When people in Fort Worth hear a siren, I want them to be able to turn on the radio and you to tell them what’s on fire.”
And that has been my, you know, the foundation of my career, breaking news, hard news is the foundation of my career. And I think we’re almost back to where I started so I can tell my reporters when people hear a siren or see smoke or, you know, ambulances going all over everywhere, I want them to go to wcmessenger.com to find out what it was.
And I think as that grows, as the familiarity of our Web site grows the advertiser will come along. And we have done a good job but it’s hard to, I mean when you have a small advertising staff like we have just like five people. It’s small; it’s hard to get them to sell both the print ads and the online. So how we started is we just added to the cost. I mean if we charge you $10 for a classified ad well now it’s $11 and we give you the Web site. And, or if we, like on our daily update, the bottom ads, if they were $50 well they became $60 and then on our web page, you also had a little…
So I think the future, I mean I think the future of community newspapers is great but it’s going to be different. We’re going to have, you know, a very broad-based, you know, a very broad-based way to deliver the news but we’re still gonna be delivering the news. And that’s gonna require journalists, photographers, editors, and to me that, that is, I mean it…
There’s a very bright future for young people who want to get into the news business.
When I started and when we started in the radio, in the newspaper business, I mean, you know once a week, one reporter and this guy sold the ads and he shot the pictures and all this stuff. Well, he, today he still does that. I mean he creates ads for our automobile dealers that run in the major metro papers because, you know, they’ve got confidence in us to do it and pay us to do it. So it works real good.
So I think for the future it’s great and for the young journalists there’s no reason for them to be afraid because the skills you learn in reporting and writing the news are going to still be very valuable. They just may be applied in different ways.