Fire destroys KY biweekly’s office, but staff meets press deadline

Dec 29, 2017

By Stanley Schwartz
Managing Editor | Publishers’ Auxiliary
LEITCHFIELD, KY—Fire destroyed the office of the Grayson County News-Gazette in late November. Despite the loss of the building and most of its contents, the small staff was able to get its next issue to the subscribers on time.
Reached by phone, Publisher Rick Welch said the fire destroyed just about everything in the building.
“The fire department determined the fire was electrical in nature,” he said. It started sometime in the evening of Nov. 24 when everyone was out of the building. “No one was injured,” he added. The businesses on either side of the newspaper received some smoke, but the fire was contained to the News-Gazette’s office. Although the computers and the furniture were damaged by the fire, the hard drives were salvaged.
Welch said the newspaper’s archives, which were housed on the second floor, were untouched by the flames or water. Welch is a regional publisher for Paxton Media Group, a privately held media company that owns about 32 daily papers and numerous weeklies. It had purchased the News-Gazette in October from Civitas Media along with two other publications, the News Democrat & Leader in Russellville, KY, and the Macon County Times in Lafayette, TN.
Welch said he was impressed with the tenacity of the News-Gazette staff.
“The staff was very professional,” he said. “The Leitchfield Fire Department was awesome. Even the insurance company was good to work with.”
Welch said the paper has one reporter, an editor, a sales representative and a customer service rep.
“We run mean and lean,” he added. The staff put together a list of what they needed to keep the paper running. A temporary home was offered by the county in the old library building. They’re working off of laptops and had just gotten WiFi installed the week before Christmas, along with VOIP phones. Welch said they’re working hard to return to normal.
He noted that the damaged office had been an ideal space for the newspaper. The landlord, who was always easy to work with, is currently working to rebuild the structure. “But that could take months.” During that time, the staff will continue to operate out of the old library. Once they’re ready to move back to their own quarters, they will need new furniture, and Welch said they plan on buying desktop computers, as well.

Help came from everywhere
Once the news about the fire became known, offers of help started to come in from everywhere, Welch said. The city and county offered help where they could. “Even our competitor here in town offered us a place to stay,” he noted. The Kentucky Press Association also reached out to the state’s newspapers on behalf of the biweekly.
“There was so much support—everyone offering help if we needed it,” he said. But the staff was able to take the disruption in stride, setting up in the new location and moving on to the next issue.
“It was great to know that support was there if we needed it,” he said. “We appreciate the brotherhood of newspapers.”
Initial reaction to the fire by the staff was shock, Welch said. “They were so glad that no one was injured.” The fire department estimated the fire started sometime around 9 p.m. Welch received notice about an hour later. After that, everyone on staff was making plans for how to keep the paper running so that the community would not miss one issue of their newspaper. The 2,500-circulation paper is distributed on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
“It was a great team effort to keep everything going,” he said. “They’ve done a super job.”
Advertisers have been supportive, as well, he added. “This is the Christmas season, and things have not slowed down.”