The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
A small town newspaper publisher is using Old School journalism to breathe new life into the community.
Photo by Rachel Anne Seymour.
Louise Red Corn is owner and publisher of Bigheart Times, a weekly newspaper serving Osage County, located in Barnsdall, Okla. Red Corn has worked as a reporter at several large newspapers across the United States as well as for TIME magazine.
(Owning the Bigheart Times) appealed to me because, working for other news organizations in the 20-year window I did, circulation was going down. When I started (working in newspapers) – I would say I started in Biloxi – I still had those old-school, tobacco-chaw editors who weren’t wearing fedoras, but were of that era. It kind of morphed, the whole industry, into the USA Today model from the old model, to where long stories were embraced, in-depth was embraced. I kind of embraced the idea of having a weekly paper because I could put my own thoughts into print to follow through with how I thought a newspaper should be run and the news that should be printed.
We try to be pretty even-handed in our coverage. We’ll jump right into the negative, whether it’s crime or corruption – we cover it all. We can be very in-your-face or very sweet. We try to write lots of profiles of people in the community that have made a difference. We have grown, much to Barnsdall’s dismay. Barnsdall is way too small to support a newspaper. There is no ad revenue here, and when I bought it, we had circulation of 600. I expanded the coverage to cover Pawhuska, and now we pretty much cover all of Osage County. I try to cover the news that they’re not going to get anywhere else. I cover trials, the Wynona Robotics Team going to Fort Smith to compete for a national title… not that we always succeed, but we try to cover everything that matters, the good, the bad and the ugly.
(When I bought the paper) I was the devil to some, but I was a hero to many more. I called the (detractors) the “Hateful Eight,” and it was literally about that many people who were really, really pissed off. I’m not going to cover them because they think they’re important, and that irritated them, and they were very vocal. To everyone else, it was great because I gave voice to the disenfranchised who had historically been ignored.
Small newspapers should pay attention to our model. We have more than tripled the circulation of our paper by doing long-form story and expanding coverage. A lot of small newspapers don’t report and interview people and do the hard stories where you have to ask people (hard questions). We take the old, big-city attitude and put it in a small town, and it can be awkward. We report every felony and misdemeanor charge when it gets to court in Osage County. The first week (we ran the crime log) there was a guy that lived in Pawhuska that was in (the crime log) twice. I was going to go to the grocery store to buy bacon, and I went up to the bacon display and here was the guy that had been in the crime log twice, and my first reaction was to dart back into the spice aisle. Now I’ve toughened up, and if someone glares at me, I think, whatever. You have to have thick skin to do this in a small town.