Local

Staff exodus makes a tough business tougher in Butler, Mo.

The first edition of the Messenger included a front-page letter from the wife of the late C.A. Moore, who had worked and written for various Bates County newspapers for 70 of his 83 years, practically up to the day he died in November.
The first edition of the Messenger included a front-page letter from the wife of the late C.A. Moore, who had worked and written for various Bates County newspapers for 70 of his 83 years, practically up to the day he died in November. COURTESY OF THE NEWS-XPRESS

Running a newspaper can be a rough business. In tiny Butler, Mo., it just got rougher.

So it happens when all five members of the editorial staff of the town’s weekly paper — The News Xpress — work to put a paper to bed and then, on that same night, collectively hand in their resignations. Then, just days later, they publish a brand new, competitive 16-page newspaper of their own, while opening an office only a few doors down from their former employer.

“All of our women up front, they bought a new paper and they opened one next door and they’re trying to run us out of town,” Chase Peters, the son of News Xpress owner Jon Peters, lamented this week as he and family scrambled to put out a paper with no staff.

Said Jon Peters: “I don’t need sympathy … I need labor. I need layout. I need workers.”

The walkout in Bates County happened Feb. 9.

When the staff of the The News Xpress departed, they also left no one to put out the company’s two other publications, the weekly shoppers Xchanger and Xchanger2, because the same staff produced all three publications.

Of course, every story has at least two sides. Lee Anna Schowengerdt, the 40-year-old owner and publisher of two new competing weeklies — The Messenger newspaper and The Hub, a shopper — doesn’t think Peters should have been taken by complete surprise.

“I think in his heart he probably knew it was coming,” she said.

Schowengerdt had worked as The News Xpress company’s graphic designer for 20 years and, before that, had worked there on and off since age 13. Her mother, Paula Schowengerdt, 66, was the company’s office manager and worked there for 33 years.

Both originally had worked for Jim and Carol Peters who, as husband and wife, published the first issue of the Xchanger in 1978. Then, in 1984, they expanded, launching the News Xpress.

When Jim Peters died in October 2012 at age 79, the paper was left in the hands of son Jon. Both Schowengerdts said they thought the working relationship suffered.

“I loved his mother and dad. I learned a lot of from them. They did everything for me,” Lee Anna Schowengerdt said. “But … it changed.”

Lee Anna Schowengerdt said that last year she asked Peters whether he might be willing to sell The News Xpress and Xchanger papers. She said that when he quoted a price of $1.8 million, she started looking elsewhere. Nearby, she found Linda Oldfield, who not only was willing to sell her 126-year-old weekly, The Adrian Journal, but also the paper’s building in Adrian, on East Main Street, along with its sister paper, The Drexel Star, as part of the deal.

Price? “You can say less than $250,000,” said Lee Anna Schowengerdt, who put up the money with her business partner and life partner, Tabitha Leister, 32.

The rest of the staff — Andrea Jackson, reporter and photographer; Susan Johnston, business manager; and Annette Forester, accounting manager — joined the exodus. Paula Schowengerdt was named editor. Linda Oldfield also joined the team.

The first edition of The Messenger was mailed to subscribers on Feb. 13, even as a satellite office in Butler near the Xpress is being constructed.

Notably, the first paper included a front-page letter from the wife of the late C.A. Moore, the beloved reporter who had worked and written for various Bates County newspapers for 70 of his 83 years, practically up to the day he died in November. Moore wrote for the News Xpress from the moment it opened just over 30 years ago. To many Bates County residents, the Xpress and C.A. Moore were one and the same.

In her letter, Anna Moore made it clear that before C.A. passed away he had also intended to be part of The Messenger.

“Congratulations on the new newspaper,” Anna Moore wrote. “What an exciting and busy time at the beginning of a new business. C.A. had looked forward to this time and was so pleased to be included on the staff.…”

The second edition is being mailed Friday with stories on snow and a council meeting leading the news.

Jon Peters, meantime, was reluctant to confirm or spend time talking about the details of his staff’s departure.

“I have a deadline,” he said.

To reach Eric Adler, call 816-234-4431 or send email to eadler@kcstar.com.

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