‘Editors always make the writing better, and you don’t need money to buy a community newspaper’

Feb 1, 2021


Mullen Newspapers

The learning curve for me was steep, but I’d had a great mentor in Les Mann. God rest his soul; he’d spent two years preparing me for the job as his publisher trainee in Wayne, Nebraska. My predecessor there hit the nail on the head when I complained that I feared I wasn’t ready.

“You’re right, Tommy; you’re not ready. But nobody is ever ready for this job,” she promised.

Les had tried to seduce me into taking a $14,500 salary with the enticement that, if I applied myself, I’d be a millionaire. That was a big deal in 1994. At the time, I was closing up my commercial real estate shop where I’d just had a $65,000 year. But I’d left newspapers six years earlier with the intent to make enough money to buy my own.

My newspaper career was on hiatus because I’d never make enough to buy a paper on a reporter’s salary and I was tired of editors screwing up my writing.

As it turns out, I was wrong on both counts. Editors always make the writing better, and you don’t need money to buy a community newspaper.

Robb Hicks provided me that opportunity via sweat-equity. You can be sure those deals are still out there. Together with our partner, Gary Stevenson, we three amigos set about buying just about any newspaper we could lay our hands on.

Les also provided me with his rules of being a publisher. One, if you’re not training someone to do your job, you’re not doing your job. Two, learn the rules and then break them when you have a reason. Three, always be willing to believe that you and everyone else might be completely full of (expletive deleted).

Eventually I learned to find other people in the business whose judgment I trust. Whenever I need advice, I’ll call at least three of them, listen to them and then make the decision I think is in the best long-term interest of the community, because that’s also in the newspaper’s best interest.

When hiring, passion is the most important factor. You’ll can train anyone to do anything if they care.

Tom Mullen was a paperboy when he was 11. He was a copy editor for the Omaha (Nebraska) World Herald while in college. With his wife, Annie, he has owned and operated newspapers in Newcastle, Green River and Thermopolis in Wyoming; Philipsburg, Deer Lodge, Glasgow and Havre in Montana; Weiser and Driggs in Idaho; Seaside and Sisters in Oregon; Port Townsend, Shelton and Omak in Washington; and Sioux City in Iowa.