Businessman Dies Of Boredom In One-Stoplight Town
Not even that headline--however true--would save the Oak Hill Gazette. Mark Campbell had been sent to the tiny Missouri town with one goal: to convince Abby Warner to sell her family's financially troubled newspaper to his conglomerate. Then he'd head back to the city and never look back. But it turned out there was much more to Oak Hill than jaywalking chickens and one-hundred-year-old residents. There was beautiful, gutsy Abby. And the way he'd come to feel about her was front-page worthy.
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January 31, 2008
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Excerpt from A Dream to Share by Irene Hannon
"Iknow you're dead set against this, Abby. But I don't think we have any choice."
Abby Warner swallowed past the lump in her throat and stared at James Lipic, who sat next to her at the round table in the Oak Hill Gazette's tiny conference room. Twin vertical grooves were etched in the center of the older man's forehead, forming sharp right angles to the flat, resigned line of his lips.
None of the other finance board members looked any happier, she noted, taking a quick survey. Harold Walsh's ruddy face was pinker than usual, his shock of unruly white hair falling into even greater disarray as he jabbed his fingers through it. Vernon Lutrell stared down at the table, giving Abby a good view of the top of his head, where bristly gray hair spiked to attention on either side of a shiny bald runway. To complete the circle, Tony Parisi doodled on a pad of paper in front of him that was blank except for a series of dollar signs.
That's what it all came down to, Abby reflected, trying in vain to stem the tide of bitterness that washed over her. The almighty dollar. Forget about truth and heritage and independence. Let's just make money.
"There has to be another way." There was a note of desperation in her voice, but Abby didn't care.
"We've tried to come up with other alternatives, Abby, but this is the only viable option." Harold's voice was gentle--but firm.
Much as Abby wanted to vent her anger and frustration on the paper's board, she knew that wouldn't be fair. Bottom line, it was a fiscal issue. Publishing conglomerates were gobbling up smaller papers, making it difficult for independents to survive.
Nor was this a new problem. The fortunes of the weekly Gazette had begun to sour fifteen years ago, forcing Abby's father to enlist the aid of three successful local businessmen who were willing to support a free and independent press. Each investor had acquired a fifteen percent share, leaving her father fifty-five percent--a controlling interest.
Then, twelve years ago, he'd had to add a fourth investor in order to keep the paper solvent, tipping the voting power in favor of the board. The members had never sided against him--or her--since she'd taken over ten years ago, after her father's fatal heart attack. Even now, she knew they'd prefer not to press the issue. But bills had to be paid. And the well was fast running dry. She understood their dilemma: they were all good men who wanted to do the right thing, but their backs were against the wall. Just as hers was.
"We're open to suggestions, Abby." Tony spoke again when the silence lengthened. "If you have any other ideas, we're happy to look into them."
With unsteady fingers, Abby adjusted her bronze-rimmed glasses. As they all knew, the only source of funding on the horizon was Spencer Campbell, founder and CEO of Campbell Publishing, who had expressed interest in acquiring the Gazette.
"I wish I did, Tony."
"At the rate we're going, I doubt we can sustain operations for more than six months," Vernon offered as he perused the financial report in front of him.
That was pretty much what Joe Miller, the staff accountant, had told her yesterday when they'd gone over the budget. And there was little Abby could do to bolster the numbers. The operation was already as lean as it could get.
Bottom line, Abby felt like a failure. For more than a hundred years, under the leadership of her family, the Oak Hill Gazette had been a trusted voice in the rural counties in Missouri that it served. Her great-grandfather had started the paper in 1904 with little more than a crusading spirit and fifty dollars in his pocket. Her grandfather had won a Pulitzer prize. Her father, too, had held truth and honesty in far higher regard than monetary gain.
Now, under her watch, that sterling legacy would disappear.
"I just can't see selling the paper to some giant publisher who may not even care about journalistic integrity and all the things the Oak Hill Gazette has stood for during the past century." Her voice choked on the last word and she dipped her head, blinking to sweep the moisture from her eyes.
"There is another alternative," Harold said when no one else responded.
He didn't need to spell it out. They all knew what he meant: let the paper go belly-up. Liquidate. Close up shop. Abby, too, had thought about that option. And dismissed it, convinced that another way would be found to save the Gazette. But they'd run out of time. Selling out or shutting down now had to be considered. Even if both options made her sick to her stomach.
"I'm sorry. It seems I've let everyone down." A tremor ran through her voice, and Abby removed her glasses to massage her forehead.
"It's not your fault," James consoled her. "The good Lord knows you've tried. It's just a sign of the times. The little guy can't compete anymore. At least Campbell Publishing seems to be a reputable outfit. What can it hurt to talk with them?"