2003 — twenty years ago. Seems like just yesterday … and yet it seems like two decades on. George W. Bush was president and the second Gulf war started in Iraq. The Concorde made its last commercial flight, while China joined the community of human spaceflight nations with the launch of Shenzhou 5. The Tesla electric car company was founded, and not by Elon Musk. Social media company MySpace began transmitting everyone’s submitted information, and we learned to thank you for the add!
And in September of that year, this very newspaper that you’re holding in your hand (or reading on a screen) published its first issue. The three original partners – in the name of full disclosure, I was one – saw a need for a local community newspaper that reported on the good things that happen in our island towns. Also, a publication that got the advertisers’ colors correct in their ads might just do all right. None of the original three partners had significant print or publishing experience; I wrote a monthly column and learned a little bit about desktop publishing so I could design graphics for my CD releases. We did know radio, however. But off into the wild blue yonder we went.
Our first cover showed a young girl kissing a dolphin, and we were lucky that the Dolphin Research Center provided us such a wonderful image. The reception we received from the local community let us know that we were on to something, and our advertisers’ support allowed us to grow, improve and prosper.
I remember outfitting our offices with a bunch of slightly used Macintosh computers (those were still the days of the big CRT monitors) and external cartridge-based hard drives for “sneakernet” communication and file sharing among our different computers. In the early 2000s, Wi-Fi was still in its infancy.
We hired our first salesperson, Julie Johnson. I’m not going to reveal whether or not we “persuaded” her daughter and her friends into helping us with home delivery of our first few issues. I will say it’s amazing what free pizza will get you.
In the following three years, the Weekly had expanded into Upper and Lower Keys markets and began publishing specialty magazines like “Tropical Living” and our hurricane guide. Along the way, we were assisted by the talents of some amazing people, some of whom stand out: Steve Conklin (reporter and editor), Rob Busweiler (reporter), and Rianna Perry (ad and page layout). Another of our great hires was Jose Sanchez, the Weekly’s delivery guru. Their contributions helped make the paper what it is today.
Another couple of hires from those early days were named Kate and Jason Koler. Jason came aboard as a writer and reporter, and Kate handled office stuff and account management. They quickly became an invaluable part of the Weekly, so much so that a former Marathon mayor rescued Jason’s bicycle from the clutches of a petty thief. (True story.) Jason’s becoming editor was a mere foreshadowing of Jason and Kate’s subsequent purchase of the Weekly from the founding partners.
Since the Kolers took over, the Weekly has become the largest locally-owned community newspaper (and media group) in the Keys. Three weekly newspapers, a plethora of magazines dedicated to a variety of community interests and an online media division round out the burgeoning empire. Great people have been and continue to be associated with the Weekly, puttingtheir hearts and souls into honoring the original mission of the Weekly and serving their local communities.
It’s also why, 20 years later, I still write my Keys Disease column for the Weekly. In an era where print newspapers are in decline nationwide, the Weekly Newspapers have grown and thrived by keeping up with the times and staying true to our original mission of reporting the good things that happen in our communities.
That, and getting the advertisers’ colors correct.
– John’s Perpetual Island Tour stops every Monday at Boondocks, Wednesday at Brutus Seafood, and Thursdays at Sparky’s Landing. Check out John’s music anywhere you stream or download your music! Or point your browser to: johnbartus.hearnow.com