Happy 10th Birthday Picket News!

Happy 10th Birthday Picket News!
by Jennifer Leese

Ah, 1996...Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be successfully cloned from an adult cell, was born in Scotland. NASA announced that a meteorite thought to originate from Mars contained evidence of primitive life forms. And the Picket News started hitting the streets in the Tri-State area.
The newspaper, originally named The Washington County Pickett, underwent early ownership and name changes during 1997, to become the paper you know today as Picket News. This paper was born in a decade whose defining motto could have been "survival of the fittest" when it comes to new publications. Over the years the publication has grown visiting the topics and issues deemed important to the community and its growth and well being. "We have strived to be a positive voice in this community," said John Courtney, publisher of the Picket News.
(BOLD)Stone Age: Project Pickett
In the beginning George and Helene Belloni, local business owners of Georgie's Pizza, decided to start a local weekly newspaper with a conservative agenda and an investigative nature to provide an alternative voice to the existing Hagerstown daily news. It was named Washington County Pickett after an early Webster's definition of "Pickett- A guard posted in front...to give notice of the approach of the enemy." The first issue was published October 14, 1996, with an introduction to the paper and the people who were running it. "The enthusiasm and support of the community are the main reasons we started the newspaper--this is to be your paper," said George Belloni in a 1996 editorial.
(BOLD)New Mission: New Ownership
Within the early months of the start of the paper, the Bellonis' made the decision to move on to another local business endeavor. With the change of leadership there also came a change in philosophy, the paper became a "Good News" publication aimed at the proactive promotion and support of Washington County and the surrounding community. With this change in focus also came a new name; Picket News Inc. and a new Publisher, John W. Courtney. On January 4, 1998, Mr. Courtney wrote, "This is the beginning of a new era for our community, and with your help we can make a difference."
(BOLD)Quest For A Permanent Home
The first location for the newspaper was in a small suite just north of Burger King on Pennsylvania Avenue in Hagerstown. From there a temporary move to the private residence of one of the owners was necessary for a few months as the new location was prepared on Leitersburg Pike in a medical building. "It was a tight space--small examination rooms made into offices. Everything was very cramped but we adapted to it really fast," said Sherrill Courtney, corporate secretary and co-owner.
With the needs of the business expanding it became necessary to move once more a little over a year later to 345 East Antietam Street. With a larger store front and a loading dock, Picket News settled in and has remained for the last 7 years.
(BOLD)New Business Model--Exciting Opportunity
With the new location and a look to the future the decision was made to start searching for small businesses to partner up with the publication. In an era that saw the cost of advertising rising and small businesses struggling to survive, Picket News decided that adding other "legs" to the business would add to the overall growth and success of the company.
In some cases, partnering in beneficial strategic alliances made sense and in others outright acquisition was the right answer. The largest move was the purchase of Pony Mailbox, an established packaging and shipping store and moving it to share the location at 345 East Antietam Street. "This purchase made a lot of sense--it gave the newly merged companies a retail profit center and an excellent communication tool in the newspaper," said Jay Bidle former owner of Pony Mailbox.
"Our partnering strategy really allows us to work with many small businesses to mutual benefit," said Sharon Cramer, managing publisher. "It has been a win-win scenario for over a dozen local companies and will continue to ensure local growth. We encourage any small business to call us with proposals or to discuss how we can work together."
Other operations added include the addition of Hagerstown Auctions, a company offering two services; a local E-Bay consignment, selling and drop off location as well as the area's lowest cost auctioning, hauling and disposal service.
(BOLD)The Courtney Family
When the opportunity presented itself for the Courtney family to give back to the community they accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. With the donation of their time and energies and the efforts of many other low or no pay "Friends of the Picket", they are accomplishing their goal to provide a free publication supported completely by advertising. Although as a family they retain controlling ownership of the corporation, they felt it important to make it a publication of the community.
Early on, other local business leaders were invited to share in ownership of the paper, to ensure it would be here to serve the community interest for many years to come. Nearly 50% of the company is retained by others, and room has been made for the addition of new owners as the opportunity presents. "We didn't want to see this paper bought up and closed as has been common with many of the start up publications in the area. This one will be different!" said John Courtney.
(BOLD)Reminiscing--Challenging Times
We have lived through many trying times in the last 10 years. Some good, some bad, all changed our world forever.
In 1999 we all paused in our businesses and struggled through a plunging stock market as our two perspective candidates for President fought for weeks over hanging chads and mystery voters in Florida.
Shortly before 9/11 we completed the merger with Pony Postal Center. Who would have known that the events would change the shipping business forever...new rules, regulations, strict requirements. The first month after the attack virtually all shipping halted. What a test for a newly formed business!
During 2003, snipers John Lee Malvo and John Muhammed rocked the eastern coast with their deadly spree. As they drove closer to Hagerstown, it was reported that they may be driving a white box truck...unfortunately for us it matched the make and model of our company truck and as a result our driver was pulled over. Quite a memorable moment!
In 1996 our issues were all cut and paste publishing on a light table with hot wax, clip art, page by page design and hours of manual processes. Now we produce the entire paper without the aid of any of the manual manipulation of the early days. We have replaced the light board and hot wax and cut and paste methodology with digital design and high-speed data transfer. What used to take days now involves just hours of time. In a nutshell, its faster, smoother and the wow factor scores a 10 for the old timers around the newspaper. The light table is still here however...it makes a great place to stack boxes in the storeroom.
(BOLD)The Publications--Picket News, Picket Tourism Guide
Ten years ago Washington County Pickett set out to serve the community with interesting story content. We were politically inclined with contributions from conservative writers like Ellen Sauerbrey, perspective candidate for Governor of Maryland. With a style change to positive news and a more balanced political position we have remained a consistent voice the public has grown to rely on.
In the early days there were regular features such as (BOLD)Cochran's Civil War Corner(END BOLD) by Robert Cochran, (BOLD)Our Future(END BOLD) by then Mayor Steve Sager, (BOLD)Your Pet & You(END BOLD) by Dr. Dan Franklin DVM, business editorials by Vikki Nelson, and political commentary by Vince Dellaposta.
Current sections in the paper include: (BOLD)The County Comment(END BOLD), a regular submission from the County Commissioners Public Information Office by Norman Basset, Local Movie Reviews, Food & Recipes, Living, Opinion, Community News, Classifieds, Business Briefs, and a Community Calendar. We also began regular monthly special focus issues, like (BOLD)Senior Life(END BOLD) and (BOLD)Business & Technology Monthly(END BOLD) that is mailed to Chamber of Commerce members.
The highly successful tourism quarterly (BOLD)Picket Tourism Guide(END BOLD) has served as a resource for 9 years. It provides an in-depth look into the people, places and events that make our area a wonderful place to visit.
Through community support hundreds of thousands of free newspapers have been provided to local area students to use regularly in their studies. It is used in 30+ local schools weekly.
We have entered cyber space with the introduction of www.PicketNews.com, which provides our readers with complete virtual access to the paper and the community wherever they may be.
With over 5 million copies of Picket publications circulated over the last 10 years, we have played a part in promoting the positive value and growth oriented side of the business community. Residents of the community know they can count on the paper for an honest upbeat view of the communities' people, interesting places and exciting events. One of our readers in a letter to the editor called the Picket "The voice of our community--valued for its positive, in-depth coverage of people and places missed by the other main stream publications."
One thing is certain, times will continue to change, and we hopefully will continue to roll with the punches. As the Picket's newest addition to the editorial staff, I'd like to offer a toast to the decade old Picket News. Here's to the next 10 years, may you continue to grow with the community you serve. Cheers!