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Eric Shackle Writes: Maryland's Three-Way Newspaper War

...In St. Mary's, Maryland, 50 miles from Washington, D.C., an old-time newspaper war has broken out. Three newspapers are engaged in what may be a fight to the death of one or even two of them...

Eric Shackle brings us a hot-of-the-press report.

For more of Eric's well-crafted and ever-surprising stories please visit his world-famouse-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

In 1894, St. Mary's Church in Virginia was the scene of a bloody cavalry battle fought between Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant's Union forces and Confederate General Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, which resulted in 600 casualties.

Today, in St. Mary's, Maryland, 50 miles from Washington, D.C., an old-time newspaper war has broken out. Three newspapers are engaged in what may be a fight to the death of one or even two of them.

On one side is a blood-and-guts crusading tabloid called St. Mary's Today, edited by Kenneth C. Rossignol, who is also its publisher and secondary reporter. He lays out the pages and in his spare time sells advertising space.

Vastly different is The Enterprise, a conservative bi-weekly community newspaper run by a local chain owned by The Washington Post.

And now, James Manning McKay, 87, wealthy founder of the McKay's grocery store chain, tired of being lampooned by the tabloid, has fearlessly launched a feel-good weekly, The County Times, printing 10,000 copies "available free on local newsstands and in paper boxes throughout St. Mary's County every Thursday morning."

He hopes that within two years he will find 12,000 subscribers prepared to pay for a twice-weekly edition.

"I've wanted to start a newspaper from as far back as the 60's," said McKay. "But I had a big family to feed and educate and the store to run. Now I find myself in the position where I have the time to do it."

In the nation's capital, The Washington Post (which indirectly owns The Enterprise)on Dec. 28 published an article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/12/27/AR2006122701619.html)
by staff reporter Megan Greenwell, which began:

"There's a newspaper war brewing -- with enough finger-pointing and name-calling to make Rupert Murdoch proud. But whereas media catfights might be the norm in a metropolis like New York City or London, this spat is occurring in the unlikeliest of places: rural St. Mary's County in Southern Maryland.

"A softer, kinder paper has just joined an occasionally salacious local tabloid and a mainstream paper in the crowded St. Mary's media scene, intensifying the battle to attract the county's 98,000 residents. Nobody seems to have told folks in St. Mary's that this is the era of declining circulation and dying small-town papers."

Seven years ago, another small American town, Sidney, Nebraska was the scene of a newspaper war between the Telegraph and the Sun which ended with a merger.

In a strange coincidence, Sydney, Australia, my home city, supported daily newspapers with those very same names 50 years ago. The Telegraph, for which I was once a staff reporter, has survived, but the Sun has set forever.

Writing before the U.S. merger, Tricia Eller described the battle in an amusing article in the American Journalism Review:

"Pull out your guns and run for cover - there's a good, old-fashioned this-town-aint-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us showdown going on in the Wild West -- western Nebraska, that is. Sidney, a ranching and farming community of 6,000, is home to the 'smallest newspaper war in America,' according to Vincent Bodiford, publisher of the community's newest paper. Others might just say it's the nicest.

"Sidney claims the boasting rights to being the only two-paper town in Nebraska, and that means colossal competition for the slight city--not to mention crowding. The Sidney Telegraph, the town's 126-year-old premier paper, is beginning to feel the pressure from the newcomer Sidney Daily Sun, barely out of infancy at two years old...

"A tentative dig here, a raised voice there. In Sidney, you're likely to run into your competition at the corner grocery, so most of the fire is friendly. But it's not all sugar and spice... Sooner or later it's likely that there will be a casualty in the Battle of Sidney, because... 'Sidney is not big enough for two papers.'"

Shortly before the inevitable merger, the Sidney Telegraph published this report of the town's weekend activities:

"The Oktoberfest had ordered 500 commemorative mugs for the 25th event and Mug No. 1 was awarded the winner of a raffle and went to Roger Holsinger. There are still some commemorative mugs left and collectors may purchase them at the offices of the Cheyenne County Chamber of Commerce.

"The regular mugs sold out, say Oktoberfest officials, and beer consumption was within two kegs of the 1998 Oktoberfest."

Sydney, Australia, also held an Oktoberfest that weekend, after which the Sydney Morning Herald carried a front-page story headlined "Nein to stein blows some of the froth from Oktoberfest," beginning: "Sydney's largest Oktoberfest is at risk of losing the oomp from its oomp-pa-pa next year after authorities banned the use of traditional glass steins."


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