Outside Kansas City a classic newspaper tale is being rewritten

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Outside Kansas City a classic newspaper tale is being rewritten
IN THE NEWSROOM
Citizens and tourists alike have
embraced the new
Luminary’s retro
tone and look. The
paper’s focus is on
development and
growth, city leaders, local schools,
merchants and
“Luminaries.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Outside Kansas City a classic newspaper tale is being rewritten — and
redesigned. The story of the Parkville Luminary by Publisher Mark Vasto
T
he Vice President of the United States, David Rice
Atchison, first attempted to purchase the printing
press of The Industrial Luminary in 1855 and was
rebuffed. The Luminary, published by a man named
Col. George S. Park, had carved a niche for itself
in the small Missouri River port town of Parkville just outside
Kansas City. In fact, the newspaper was considered one of the
most influential newspapers west of the Mississippi.
An opportunist and capitalist who had purchased most of the land that became Parkville
through an Army pension he had earned
fighting off the Mexican army in Texas, Park
dreamed of building Parkville into a thriving
hub of commerce. To that end, he intended to
lead by example. He plotted all of the town’s
original lots, planted orchards, arranged for
train tracks to run through the town, built and
operated the first schools, hotel, quarry, and
furniture store and even served as the town’s
first postmaster. Most importantly, Park had
the newspaper.
Park knew Atchison’s offer was disingenuCONTINUED ON PAGE 12
www.snd.org | WINTER 2005 | Design Journal No. 97
11
IN THE NEWSROOM
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 11
ous. The newspaper championed westward
expansion, and even though Park owned a
slave, his editorials were considered to be of the
abolitionist bent. This became too much for
Atchison, and he made it clear that his intent in
purchasing the newspaper press was to put The
Luminary out of business.
Park could not bear to be left without a
voice. Besides, he had nearly 1,000 subscribers
to take care of. His angry reply was one of defiance: “There is not money enough to suppress
the Luminary!”
A few weeks later, Atchison tried a different
tack.
He purchased some whiskey and ordered a
group of his hired hands, known as “The Blue
Lodge Regulators,” to throw Park’s press in the
river, scatter his type, tar and feather him and
ride him out of Parkville on a rail.
Park’s sense of timing did not fail him – he
was out of town when the Regulators arrived,
but the press was indeed thrown in the river,
his type was scattered, and a decree promising to kill him if he ever returned to the town
hung on the post office door. Park vowed that
the paper would return someday, and even
though he was allowed to return to the city in
later years (he still owned all of the property),
the Luminary remained a distant memory and
a sour taste in his mouth until he died in 1893,
his vow to return the paper unfulfilled.
For reasons that every reporter or associate
publisher readily identifies with, I decided to
strike out on my own and publish a small-town
newspaper in June 2004.
Platte County, where Parkville is located, is
a unique place, a place where time has literally
stood still since after the Civil War. The county
backed the South, and after the war, to the victors went the spoils: Kansas City grew into the
dominant city and the Platte County dwellers
were content to be left alone. Each little city
became a fiefdom in and unto itself, each one
developing a unique sense of architecture and
civic pride.
In recent years, the area, known as the
Northland in the Kansas City region, has
grown. The major airport operates here, and
quaint towns like Parkville became sought-after
tourist destinations. In Parkville, commercial
and residential development skyrocketed and
in recent years, the population has grown more
than 300 percent.
I had reported on several events in the city
for an area newspaper, and each time I couldn’t
help but wonder why every other small town in
the area had their own beloved newspaper, but
Parkville did not. This became even more puzzling when you considered that Parkville had
the best demographics in the entire Kansas City
12 Design Journal No. 97 | WINTER 2005 | www.snd.org
Col. George S. Park
dreamed of building
Parkville into a commerce hub. He plotted
the town’s lots, built
schools and post offices,
planted orchards and arranged for the railroad
to run through town.
The newspaper was a
labor of love that was
shuttered in a political
power struggle. Mark
Vasto brought the paper
back to life.
At nearly 80, reporter Nancy Jack is a true classic — snapping off reports with very little
emotion or editorializing. She’s been reporting in Parkville for nearly 50 years.
region. The residents here have the best education (Parkville is home to Park University),
their historic downtown was thriving and
they made the most money. They were a natural fit for a newspaper.
Perhaps I was looking for an excuse to start
a newspaper when I visited the university
archives and asked the archivist if she knew
what the town’s first newspaper was called.
She laughed, told me all about Col. Park and
pointed to the bound volume on a table in the
corner.
The Industrial Luminary was printed on
linen, and was perfectly preserved. A newspaper history buff, I could easily tell that it was a
labor of love: Park had created the newspaper
he had always wanted to read. Across the top
of the newspaper ran the flag “A NEWSPAPER
PUBLISHED WEEKLY FOR THE FARMER,
MECHANIC, MERCHANT, POLITICIAN
IN THE NEWSROOM
To execute the retro look, the paper went with Clarendon for main headlines, a custom
sans-serif for secondary and subheads and a version of Garamond for body type. The
pages are constructed with a vertical stress and very little photography is used.
AND THE FAMILY CIRCLE.”
I immediately merged my dream of starting
the weekly newspaper I had always wanted to
publish with his vow of one day returning the
Luminary to Parkville. Two months later, complete with graphics scanned from the original,
The Parkville Luminary hit the streets in time
for the annual street festival and the mayor
announced its return with exuberance from the
parade dais.
The Luminary is designed to look like the
city it covers. Parkville is a turn of the century
river town, so we settled on a retro style that
probably best mirrors the 1930-1945 era of
American journalism, but basically sprung
from the imagination of myself and the paper’s
initial art director Tom Sunshine (who now
handles our online version).
Our flag pays homage to the original
Luminary, but is slightly reworked to read “A
NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED WEEKLY FOR
THE RESIDENT, MERCHANT, STUDENT,
AND THE FAMILY CIRCLE.” We changed it
for several reasons: for one, there are no more
farmers left in the area, and because my personal journalistic motto is that I do not write
for politicians (I’ve mainly covered local governments over the years). We chose a flaming
torch as our logo accompanied by the motto
“The Luminary Sheds Light.”
We chose the Clarendon family for our major headline type, a custom sans-serif font that
mimics old linotype for subheads or secondary
headlines, and we chose a tightly condensed
version of Garamond for the body type.
The newspaper is laid out with a predominantly vertical slant. It seems that most designers are taught to run stories horizontally these
days, like a book, and to never leave gutters. We
run the paper on a narrow web and have six
columns and we happily leave gutters all over
the place, stripping the stories up and down as
opposed to left and right.
Our reporting focus is on development and
growth, actions of city leaders, profiles of local
“Luminaries,” business-related issues facing
merchants, school board actions and crime.
We never run profiles of local businesses or
advertisers (but we do run pictures of ribbon
cuttings), and we are not a free circulation
newspaper. We sell for 25 cents at the news
racks, where we typically sell out in days.
The retro style has been the biggest reason
for this, in my opinion. It looks like a souvenir,
so even if we’re writing about a mundane local issue, tourists still grab copies. I think our
substance also matches our style. Our headlines
are, at times, ridiculously bold. A chamber of
commerce award may warrant a six-column, all
cap, “MAN LANDS ON THE MOON” type of
CONTINUED ON PAGE 14
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13
IN THE NEWSROOM
In a time-tested reflection
of the community, the
paper’s mission remained
nearly intact
after almost
150 years,
replacing
farmers with
residents, mechanics with
students and
definitely not
catering to
the politician.
CONTINUED FROM PAGE 13
headline in The Luminary. I believe our reporting is authentically classic, too: our reporter,
Nancy Jack, is nearly 80 years old and has been
reporting in town for nearly half a century. She
snaps off reports with very little of the emotion or editorializing found in many of today’s
newspapers.
We’re light on photography, almost by
design. I’ve always been taught to put tons of
faces in the newspaper, that it builds good will.
I suppose that makes sense, but in reality, the
pictures almost always turn out to be a picture
of a few people, standing in poor lighting,
holding a plaque or certificate you can’t read. I
never understood why community papers felt
the need to do that. I don’t believe that helps
sell newspapers. At The Luminary, we create
custom engravings of the people we write
about with the aim of turning every time we
put someone’s face in the paper into an event.
I had always planned to be more of a gracious host in my editorials, welcoming people
to that week’s issue, pointing out all of the
great content. I didn’t want to be the proverbial “800-pound gorilla.” Reading over the old
Luminary, I really got to liking Col. Park’s “take
no prisoner” style and I have to admit that I’ve
been influenced by it. I like to think I stop just
before losing credibility, and that many people
know it’s actually satirical, but in any event, the
characterization seems to have struck a few
chords. I’ve battled many politicians, had more
than one person threaten me with lawsuits, but
I reason that it’s only because people aren’t used
to seeing a local newspaper take politicians to
task anymore.
Speaking of Park, we often reprint his old
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editorials, many of which are still relevant
today. The aforementioned archivist also contributes regular historical features about the
city and the local legend, 85-year-old voice of
the Kansas City Chiefs Bill Grigsby contributes
a decidedly un-pc weekly column. We publish
exclusive content from the PGA Tour, and a local ESPN contributor allows us to republish his
award-winning blog on the Kansas City Royals.
We also run a challenging crossword, a free
community calendar and even Flash Gordon,
which I believe to be the most retro of all syndicated cartoons.
We’re retro, but we’re also pretty cutting edge.
We were the first newspaper in the country to
partner with TextCaster, a service that lets us
“narrowcast” to subscribers over cell phones,
letting us break news faster than any daily newspaper or television newscast when it comes to
local news. Our Web site uses the latest XHTML
technology, and the technology director at the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said our site is “up
there with anything a paper with a circulation a
hundred times the size of (ours) is doing.”
In our first year, the paper has been incredibly well-received by residents. Nearly 35
percent of all homeowners in Parkville have
requested or paid for subscriptions of The
Luminary, and we routinely sell several hundred more at the racks, so we estimate that we
have captured nearly 80 percent of the market
share (we direct mail the rest to randomly selected postal routes). When you consider that
no less than nine other newspapers purport to
cover Parkville as well (we’re the only locally
published newspaper, however), those numbers would seem to defy all conventions.
Romanticism has it limits, however.
The original Luminary office was located in
a converted washroom (read: bathroom) on the
second floor of an antique mall, but we’ve since
moved into a small office at a local magazine
publishing house in the downtown area. The
entire operation is run off my laptop and I’m
the only full-time employee, which probably
explains why we turned a profit in only our
fourth week and have been in the black every
week since. I handle the ad sales and design,
I lay out the paper each week, I assign the
stories, write nearly 75 percent of the paper,
deliver it to every news rack, send out all of
the invoices and pay all of the bills. Our copy
editor comes in once a week, our reporters and
stringers are paid per story, and our Webmaster
lives in New York City. Everything is done electronically and via the Internet. A Knight Ridder
newspaper handles our printing.
All of this positively astounds Nancy Jack and
Bill Grigsby. They used typewriters when they
started out (Bill still does, actually). Now, they
marvel at how the paper comes out each week,
even if I’m visiting friends on the coast. I joke
and tell them that we have to be “the last of the
newspapermen,” at least as they knew them. The
funny thing is, we probably are. Competition for
advertising is fierce and it’s getting harder and
harder to gather information from the government. Either way, as long as we still have the
will and the ability to write bold headlines, The
Luminary shall never be suppressed.
Mark Vasto is the sole owner and publisher of
The Parkville Luminary. Prior to The Luminary,
Vasto worked as a reporter for Knight Ridder and
as a contracted writer for Turner Broadcasting.
Vasto studied journalism at The University of
Maryland. He and his wife Nancy live in Merriam,
Kansas — 10 minutes from Parkville.

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