Stephanie Minor looks through copies of the latest edition of the weekly Lamar Leader in Sulligent, Alabama on Friday. Minor, who started working there in 1998 as a typesetter, became the newspaper's owner on Dec. 20. Photo by: Zack Plair/Dispatch Staff
Stephanie Minor stands outside the Lamar Leader office on Highway 17 in Sulligent Friday. As the newspaper's new owner, she hopes to increase its online presence and add human interest stories that will help keep the small weekly viable in the town of 1,800 residents.
Photo by: Zack Plair/Dispatch Staff
January 13, 2020 9:39:06 AM
Burns from a wax machine. Tiny nicks on her hands from an exacto knife.
Stephanie Minor remembers firmly, even somewhat fondly, these markers of her early years working in the small-town newspaper business.
Over more than 20 years Minor, 49, has held just about every position at the Lamar Leader in Sulligent, a town of about 1,800 residents in West Alabama. She designed pages the "old school" way -- typing copy that had to be cut out, run through a machine of hot wax that was then adhered to a paste-up sheet that would be shot into a negative and burned to a metal plate -- before the paper transitioned to digital design in the early 2000s. She's served as office manager and advertising representative, as well.
But in December, Minor moved to the big office of the Leader's building on Highway 17, officially becoming the owner of the small weekly newspaper in the town where she grew up.
"You know 'here' when it's right," Minor said, putting a closed fist against her chest over her heart. "You know what you're good at, and you know what you enjoy. Lord knows I've worked jobs I've hated, and it makes it hard to get up and go. ... I felt called to do this and I was able to do it, so I thought, 'Why not?' After 20 years, I know the business."
Minor said she has wanted to own a business since she was a child, drawing the dream from her father who was the longtime proprietor for a gentlemen's clothing store in Sulligent. Her career in newspapers, though, started straight out of high school at the entry level as a typesetter, paste-up page designer and copy editor for the Lamar Democrat in nearby Vernon. After two years there, she did various other jobs in the area for most of the 1990s before newspapers called her back.
The Lamar Leader needed a typesetter in 1998, and Minor, then a single mother, couldn't resist an opportunity to work right across the street from her daughter's school. As small newspapers typically have small staffs, Minor soon found herself laying out pages again, building ads, then later also managing the Leader office. Along the way, she saw landmarks at the newspaper that seem like small potatoes now but at the time were a pretty big deal.
"I remember the first issue with a full-color front that we printed," Minor said. "That was amazing to me."
By 2013, Keith Bryson -- who sold the paper to Minor last month -- had purchased the Leader from Jarrod Wadsworth. At that time, Minor had started to get restless with the pent-up nature of her duties, and she asked the new owner for an opportunity to sell ads. She did that well for five years, left for a brief six-month stint as a sales representative for an area car dealership, then returned to her former position at the Leader.
Before long, she was selling ads for the paper and two West Alabama radio stations -- WJEC in Vernon and WLDX in Fayette.
"I don't like to sit behind a desk," she said. "I like being out meeting with the public. ... I've established great friendships through that and I love it."
As owner, Minor has become something of a "one-woman show" at the Leader, selling ads, reporting news stories and looking for ways to grow her business in an age of fast-moving technology that isn't always kind to print news. Social media takes away from circulation, she admits, and the Leader will need a website and stronger social media presence to keep itself established as the primary voice for Sulligent local news.
More immediately, though, Minor has tapped into the same resources that made her a successful ad sales representative to bring the people a whole newspaper they are willing to buy.
"I've gone to the people and asked them what kinds of things they want to see in the paper," Minor said. "For one, we're trying to get in more human interest stories.
"People still want to see their kids' and grandkids' names and pictures in the paper," she added. "There are still things people want to see in black and white."
So far, Minor said, people seem to be excited about the changes she's already making and the potential it has to remain a fixture of life in tiny Sulligent.
"The people have been great," Minor said. "They've been so encouraging and very helpful. I know it will be long hours and more responsibility, but I will give it my best shot.
"Sulligent is my hometown, and I love this place," she added. "I want this town to have its own newspaper with its own news. ... All I can do is take it one day at a time, and whatever the future holds, just roll with it."
Disclosure: The Dispatch prints The Lamar Leader.
Zack Plair is the managing editor for The Dispatch.
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