The Maryville Daily Forum has been purchased from GateHouse Media by local publisher Phil Cobb, according to John Cribb, Cribb, Greene & Associates who represented the buyer in the transaction. The full news release prepared by the Daily Forum staff follows:
A new dawn broke for community journalism in Nodaway County early Wednesday as the reconstituted staff of the Maryville Daily Forum arrived at the newspaper’s offices at Main and Jenkins for what promised to be a long, hectic day.
Long and hectic but also historic and full of promise and hope. For the first time in decades a team of editors, reporters, salespeople and tech specialists gathered to put together a paper that would be published under the masthead of local ownership.
Sold earlier this month by GateHouse Media, which recently emerged from bankruptcy, the Forum is now solely owned by Cobb Publishing LLC, an organization forged into being by the paper’s former general manager and longtime Nodaway County resident Phil Cobb.
Cobb left the Forum in March 2012 after months of deep budget and staff cuts implemented by the struggling GateHouse chain, which operates several hundred papers in about 20 states.
Frustrated by mounting pressure from his bosses to allocate an ever-increasing share of the paper’s profits to the GateHouse bottom line – money that never touched Maryville’s local economy – Cobb decided he’d had enough, and that it was time to strike out on his own.
“He lived for this paper, and he was disgusted by what had happened to it,” said former GateHouse reporter Tony Brown, now Cobb’s news editor. “We all were.”
Immediately after his departure, Cobb – who was followed out the door by several key staff members – set up shop on the south end of Main Street and founded The Post, a free shopper that quickly attracted a wide customer base of local advertisers.
His success was not lost on GateHouse managers, one of whom declared that the multi-million-dollar publishing chain was being victimized by a “David and Goliath strategy.”
And, just as in the Bible, David won. Cobb is now back in the Forum’s executive office, not as general manager but as owner and publisher in his own right. Considering his pedigree, that’s not really surprising.
Cobb’s father was noted northwest Missouri publisher, teacher and coach Robert Cobb, who earlier this year was posthumously inducted into the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame.
His mother, Lana, now the Forum’s business manager, was fully involved in her late husband’s newspaper career, which included ownership of newspapers in Albany, Stanberry and King City.
“My memories of the Forum go way back,” Cobb said earlier this week. “I was 7 years old in 1976 when my parents purchased the Tri-County News in King City, and I would travel to Maryville with my dad to get his paper printed on the press in this same building.
“At 8 years old, I wrote my first newspaper column, Chalk Board, a spinoff of my dad’s sports column, Chalk Talk. When I was 16, I worked in the mailroom at the Forum. Throughout high school, I covered summer sports in King City. Then, after college, I returned home to assist my parents with their weekly publication. I reported on sports for King City, Union Star, Stanberry and Jefferson, covered Stanberry and Jefferson school boards, Stanberry City Council and various community events. There is not a single task that I have not performed at a newspaper.”
In the Internet age, the Forum joins a mere handful of Missouri daily newspapers that remain locally owned. Though the challenges posed to such publications by competing electronic media are formidable, Cobb is confident in both his market and his product.
“The common belief over the past decade has been that people have given up on newspapers,” he said. “That’s only partially true. People didn’t give up on what newspapers used to be or should be, they gave up on what newspapers have become.
“Corporate newspaper ownership gave up on newspapers a long time ago, focusing disproportionately on revenue and taking their collective eye off of the most important thing – the product. To offset declining revenues they scaled back on editorial content to cut expenses. Instead of trying to create a product that readers and advertisers would better respond to, they literally asked their customers to pay more for less.”
“It is my belief that the people of Maryville and Nodaway County want a good daily newspaper and are eager to support a good daily newspaper.”
“They want to know that when they pick up the paper, it will be full of content that is relevant to their lives. They want to know that the information is timely and accurate. They want to know that when something important is happening in their lives, the newspaper is there to record that moment in time.”
“I also believe that we have the right personnel to deliver the type of newspaper they expect. The staff we have assembled is experienced, professional and devoted to providing our readers with a newspaper they will be proud to call their own.”
Among Cobb’s staff is print veteran Jim Fall, named the Forum’s executive editor. Fall’s 54-year career includes stints as an editor and reporter at papers in Arkansas and Illinois and the purchase of the Albany Ledger and Stanberry Headlight from Robert Cobb in the mid-70’s.
Fall served as publisher of the Daily Forum from 1989-’91 before founding the Maryville Free Press and “ending” his career in 2005 as executive director of the Montana Newspaper Association.
“For me, this is a culmination,” Fall said, “a goal that has been in the back of my mind since 1991 – to bring local ownership of the Daily Forum back to Maryville.”
Fall said he believes deeply in the future of hometown journalism, and thinks reports of its demise are premature.
“Electronic media has changed the way news is disseminated,” Fall said, “but the basics remain the same. People want complete, fair and unbiased reporting of the events that are important to them and to their community. If you do that, in my experience, you’ll be successful.”
Cribb, Greene & Associates is a ninety year old newspaper brokerage, appraisal and consulting firm with offices in Helena, Montana and Charlottesville, Virginia.