Photographs by Kevin Fleminghttp://kevinfleming.com
The Chicago Times said it best back in 1861: “It is a newspaper’s duty to print the news and raise hell.”
Downstate readers would hardly charge friendly rivals Delaware State News and Dover Post with raising Cain. In fact, the two newspapers want to be known for the civil way they go about collecting and reporting the news.
Readers would say that the two publications play a vital role in a person’s daily and weekly news consumption, and in the downstate communities. Both publications, led by individuals who have always had news in their blood, report the hard news in the area, but also the softer, feel-good stuff. The Delaware State News, owned and operated by Independent Newspapers, Inc. and housed in a brand-new, beautiful $10 million complex, invites public participation through its Sound Off page, where people can call in to vent anonymously about any issue and have their views printed. The Delaware State News, INI’s flagship paper, with a circulation ranging from 19,350 to 32,850, has a gentler side, with its Acts of Kindness write-in column among its many positive features.
“As a capital city and regional daily, ideally, we’re offering to downstate residents stories that address our mission of giving citizens the information they need to make their own intelligent decisions about public issues,” says Andy West, managing editor of the Delaware State News. “These should be the stories people talk about over dinner, post comments on forums at newszap.com, call in their opinions to Sound Off, and-or write letters to the editor. They are the stories that should set us apart. It should also be noted that we understand how important it is to embrace contributions from the public for use in print and at newszap.com.”
West says INI wants the State News’ pages to be filled with material that is “of, by and for” communities, so a good portion of what appears in the daily paper is submitted by readers. “We’re now giving people the option to give immediacy to getting their news out by using our Post Your News options at newszap.com,” he says. “More and more, the paper will have a great sampling of reader contributions, with additional information and photos available online.”
The Dover Post, with a circulation approaching 32,000, published its first weekly paper in April 30, 1975, and has kept its successful concentrated news and features format, relaying news and special-interest stories that range from the complex issues of managing growth in Kent County to a great-grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration to an upcoming fundraiser for a child who desperately needs a kidney transplant. Though 50 cents at newsstands and $39.50 for a year’s mailed subscription, the Post is delivered for free to households in the Greater Dover Area and in some small communities south of Dover.
Dover Post chairman James Flood Sr., a gracious statesman, always wanted to be a newspaper man. When he was a boy, he told his mother that he was going to own five newspapers one day, and was told that would cost him a quarter. His company now owns five, with majority ownership in five others.
After working as a newspaper man, including editing and managing the Cecil Whig in Elkton, Maryland, from 1957 to 1959 and acting as Dover bureau chief for the morning and evening editions of the News Journal from 1959 to 1963, Flood left the newspaper business to work for the late U.S. Senator J. Caleb Boggs as press secretary in the 1960s. He returned to Delaware from Washington, D.C., in 1969 to become editor, manager and part owner of Coastal Communications.
Along with a group of investors, Flood started the Dover Post in 1975. Competition was fierce from the Delaware State News and two other weeklies, which started about the same time, one published by Jack Russell, which lasted 11 issues, and another started by Jack Costello, which lasted several years.
“The local business and professional people who invested in the Dover Post were very supportive at the beginning, but as the paper continued to lose money, they became disenchanted,” Jim Flood recalls. “The enterprise came very close to failing. People would ask me how I could sleep at night.”
When a publisher from New Jersey offered to take over the paper, most Post stockholders agreed. Thankfully for Dover, the Flood family refused his offer. “We felt we couldn’t accept the proposal because we had so much invested already in time and money, as well, of course, pride,” Flood says.
The family held the paper together by keeping expenses down and occasionally “playing the float.” Some family members would even sometimes hold off cashing their paychecks to help cash flow. The paper, whose revenues are driven by advertising, started making money in 1980 and it has been profitable ever since, with 11 newspapers under its direction.
“Not once did we ever bounce a check,” Flood says. “Publishing the first Dover Post wouldn’t have happened if Harold Schmittinger, a lawyer, hadn’t assembled most of the early investors. Help in the early going from Vernon Ingram, a Dover businessman, was also critical. Most important among the investors for his continuing help and investment was the late Walt Simpson, a Camden businessman and civic leader who once served as Delaware’s secretary of state.”
The Post’s success has all been about family involvement. Never taking any credit for himself, Flood says the company’s success is also due to the combined efforts of all the people in different roles who together produce the newspapers, from the front office staff to the writers and printing staff, and of course, the businesses that advertise in the paper.
Other members of the Flood family who work for the company are Jim Flood Jr., general manager and president; Mary Flood Kaltreider and her husband, Fred Kaltreider, the advertising managers and coordinators; and Don Flood, the editor. Don has worked for the Dover Post full-time since graduating from the University of Delaware in 1980, where he worked on The Review, the student-run campus paper.
One of the sons, David Flood, formerly in charge of circulation and job printing, launched the Smyrna-Clayton Sun. After the Post bought the Smyrna Times, David ran the two papers as a single unit until he and his wife, Carolyn, left the area 17 years ago to start their own community paper in southern Maine, where Jim Flood Sr. grew up. That enterprise has grown to include six community papers. Sons John and Paul Flood helped with The Middletown Transcript and the Sussex Countian, and daughter Ruth helped in the office in Georgetown.
Delaware State News, the rival housed not too far from the Dover Post, was founded by Jack Smyth, who, while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, decided that a newspaper career would be more meaningful than working in the family jewelry store in Renovo, a small railroad town in Pennsylvania. After the war, Smyth purchased the four-page, five-day Renovo Daily Record, then one of the smallest papers in the country. In 1952 Smyth sold the Renovo Daily in order to purchase the Delaware State News in Dover.
“Jack learned the business by doing it, and was serious about the role a newspaper should play in the community,” says State News president and publisher Tammy Brittingham. “His journalistic philosophies inspired the company’s newsroom guidelines, which was later authored by his son and guides the group’s newspapers today.”
When Smyth began to have health problems and moved to Arizona in 1969, he sold the newspaper to his children, including Joe Smyth, then the 26-year-old managing editor. Jack Smyth passed away in 1996 at the age of 80.
When the company started to expand in the early 1970s, CEO Joe Smyth bought his siblings’ stock, then changed the corporate name to Independent Newspapers, Inc. “Joe wanted to ensure that the company would remain independent and dedicated to the practice of journalism as a public trust, so much so that he was willing to give up his ownership to accomplish the goal,” Brittingham says.
In 1991, after many years of pursuing this goal, the IRS issued a private ruling that allowed Smyth to form a non-profit holding company in 1991 and transfer 100 percent of the ownership to INI itself.
INI also publishes two other daily papers: the Daily Banner, a six-day newspaper in Cambridge, Maryland, and the Okeechobee News in Okeechobee, Florida. Independent News, Inc. publishes four other weeklies in Delaware and on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, including the Sussex Post, the Leader & State Register, the Milford Chronicle and Crisfield Times.
INI publishes 14 suburban weekly newspapers in the fast-growing Phoenix metropolitan and six small weeklies in rural communities around Okeechobee. Internet-savvy, INI has more than 100 community web pages called Community Links, Individual Voices at www.newszap.com. Yet Dover remains the company’s corporate base.
The Dover Post Company publishes Dover Post, The Airlifter of the Dover Air Force Base, Milford Beacon, Sussex Countian, Smyrna Clayton Sun Times, and The Middletown Transcript, which has been around since 1868. The Dover Post Co. is the major shareholder in what it calls a sister company, the Community Newspapers of northern New Castle County. They include the Hockessin Community News, Greenville Community News, Mill Creek Community News, Brandywine West Community News and Brandywine East Community News, all under the direction of publisher Joe Amon. The newspapers’ combined weekly circulation (excluding the Express, an advertising publication) is 115,000 households and 253,000 readers.
“I don’t see the Dover Post just competing with the State News. We are competing with TV, radio and the Internet,” Don Flood says. “The Dover Post is published in such a way that a reader can spend 20 minutes to half an hour to keep up with what’s going on in the community.
“As the Capital City’s weekly community newspaper, we hope the Dover Post not only reflects what has happened and is scheduled to happen, but is also a positive influence in the life of our community,” Flood says. “It’s where we live. We’re part of what goes on. We want the best for the people and businesses we serve.”
As long as community newspapers report local news fairly and in sufficient detail, the future for community newspapers is bright, Flood says. “We expect to keep our papers interesting, and we know that this interest works very well for our advertisers,” he says. “Every time an issue comes out, though, we look at it with the idea that it can be a little better the next time.”
Brittingham and West hope that the Delaware State News, other INI newspapers, websites and community forums that they oversee accurately reflect their readers’ lives, their concerns, and the issues that drive and change a community for the better.
“Delaware State News and INI want to be known as guardians of the public’s right to participate, not as agenda-setting members of a power structure or the journalistic elite,” Brittingham says. “They want to be known as promoters of every citizen’s responsibility to participate with civility and for our ability to help communities benefit from open communication and citizen participation.
“We want to be known because we’re mission driven instead of just profit-driven. We want to be known for our values, ethics, purposefulness, independence, fairness and civility.”