- Kirsten Ballard
Lawyers do two things: ask questions and tell stories.
So maybe it wasn’t too far of a leap when attorney Marvin Longabaugh launched his own newspaper, the Navasota Star.
His town in Texas already had a newspaper. He was an op-ed writer for months, and was especially critical of the school board. This ruffled some feathers, and he was told he could no longer name names in his column.
Longabaugh felt censored and resigned. He offered to buy the paper, but was turned away. So he ran the numbers and did his due diligence before deciding he could run a newspaper profitably.
He calls it a newspaper for the next generation.
The Star runs weekly on colored tabloid papers, a photo with each story. He had finished up his 16th edition when we spoke to him. He is now at 40 pages a week, and it’s tougher and tougher to squeeze everything in. His circulation, including newsstands, is 1,000 people a week.
He does not see the other town paper as a problem, and urges people to understand there is no law against subscribing to two newspapers. He still subscribes to the competition.
His law background has come in handy.
As a lawyer, one of the things you have to learn to differentiate is what you think and what you know. We try really hard to observe that differentiation. The news section is what we know, the opinion section is what we think.”
He believes not separating opinion from news coverage is a dangerous mixture.
His readers are the jury. He encourages readers to write in to the newspaper with Letters to the Editor with dissenting opinions, so the readers can hear both sides and arrive at the truth.
He is the publisher, managing editor and ad sales manager. And still a practicing attorney.
“The water isn’t over my head,” he laughs. “But it’s right there at nose level… You gotta plan to work and work your plan.”
His staff is mostly freelancers, with the only qualification for writing being the ability to write in English to have a shot at the paper.
“The biggest problem with freelancers is the casual attitude about deadlines,” he admits. “The word dead is in there for a reason.”
In the new year, he wants to double the circulation and grow the classifieds section.
“I do like the idea of making money off it,” he laughs.
The Star has no employees. Longabaugh laughs when he admits he’s not even an employee and makes the same $10.99 everyone else does.
“Can a model like this work? I guess we’re going to find out,” he says.