THE MOST BIZARRE STORY IN
THE HISTORY OF PUBLISHING
What follows in the next few pages records what will go down in the annals of the history of publishing as one of the most bizarre events to ever occur.
It happened in October, 1987, and involved several individuals and other publishing firms in Kent County, but the major players were Darryl and Tom Kinley, owners of the Wallaceburg News, along with partners Misselbrook and Clauws. Others, who would have to be described as "bit players" in the drama, included Terry McConnell of the Tilbury Times; Gord Laurie, Blenheim News Tribune; Murray Scoyne, Ridgetown Dominion; Orval Schilbe, Thamesville Herald; and Rick Epplett of the Wheatley Journal.
If those names sound familiar, they should. They were the partners in the Kent County Newspaper Network which had been operating very successfully since 1984.
Now, back to the story of how a relatively modest investment in money...albeit a tremendous amount of sweat equity invested, was repaid ten-fold one year later.
Most of the information being passed along here came from the notes that Misselbrook had kept over the years. They explain how The Chatham Shopper came into being and what parts the various players had in seeing it evolve.
It should be mentioned here, that there was one other major player involved, although he played no active role as far as what was to come about, but his actions paved the way for the drama to unfold.
It started on October 1st, 1987....it is a day that will be remembered by Darryl Kinley forever. For it was on that day that she first heard the rumour that Steve Best had told his staff, "next week will the the last paper for the Chatham Shopping News...but you shouldn't have any trouble finding a job."
A stunned Shopping News staff began to tell their customers and from that point on the pace was fast and furious. Soon Chatham and Kent County was abuzz with stories, rumours and some fiction. One thing became obvious, Steve Best, for reasons of his own was stopping publication of the Chatham Shopping News.
Best was the second owner of the then 21- year-old Chatham Shopping News and from its early days had been a highly successful enterprise. As the major competitor to the Chatham Daily News for advertising dollars in the city as well as the outlying areas the publication had grown from a meagre beginning to what was believed to be a million-dollar operation. There was a second "shopper" serving the city and county, as well, published as The Pennysaver, a product of the London Free Press, but at that time in history was not a really strong publication.
The following day, October 2nd, Daryl Kinley related the story to Misselbrook who had just returned from a sales seminar he presented in Toronto. "I couldn't believe the story she was telling me, "recalls Misselbrook, "Best was shutting down the Chatham Shopping News, not selling it, not giving it to his staff, not telling the readers in advance, not doing anything considered normal".
"We talked for a few minutes longer and decided that we must be first in the market place to fill the gap left by Best, Misselbrook relates, "And we knew that we must have a publication--a-look-a-like--on the street the week after Best closed down, or not bother to put one out at all..or ever."
Knowing that the old Shopping News staff was a major key in "pulling off" this industrious project, Darryl agreed to contact Barb Green (the 20 year sales girl) of the Shopping News, to find out what was going on and what the staff felt. What Darryl learned was that Jack Byers of the Woodstock Shopping News, the man who started the Chatham Shopping News 22 years earlier and the current printer of the Chatham Shopping News was as shocked as anyone else about the Best decision. Byers, knowing the success of the Chatham Shopping News, had contacted Barb Green and offered her a "major" piece of the action if she helped Byers start a new Chatham Shopping News.
However, after several hours of talk-talk-talk, Darryl knew the old Shopping News staff could be convinced to join with her to start a new Chatham Shopper.
On October 3rd, a Saturday, Darryl called Misselbrook and after a short conference with Clauws, the two agreed that "we must go ahead and get a paper together, hire "The Staff" and get on with it." It was at that point that a decision was made to call an emergency meeting of the Network members. The meeting was set for 8 a.m., Monday, October 5th.
It was at this brief Network meeting that members were advised of the Chatham Shopping News situation. All agreed that action should continue and calls were placed to the former staff members to come to an "information meeting" the following day, Tuesday, October 6th at the Wheels Inn in Chatham.
Nine staff members were contacted, from the staff of eleven. The front office girl at the Shopping News was staying with Best to wind the business down and collect oustanding accounts. The other, a driver distributor, was on contract to Best and was not contacted.
The informational meeting started at 7 a.m. with eight of the nine invited in attendance. While the general feeling appeared to be that Steve Best was terrible to work for, a shot of loyalty ran through the veins of many staff members. "They did not want to appear to be doing something illegal or immoral," Misselbrook recalls, "And Darryl and I spent about two and one-half hours with them, answering their questions, telling them of our plans for a new Chatham Shopper, and wanting them to be part of it."
On Wednesday, October 7th, Darryl, Misselbrook and The Leader's sales manager, Bruce Smith met with the "new staff" at the Wheels Inn. A plan of organization was put into place. The sales staff would begin to make their sales calls. Classifieds and small display ads would be sold over the phone. Darryl would take some staff to the Wallaceburg News as a operating base and the rest came to Dresden with Misselbrook.
While all this was going on, Tom Kinley was dealing with the press and had an interview on CFCO Radio and also one with Bob Boughner of the Chatham Daily News. The News, however, wouldn't run the story of a new Chatham Shopper.
By the next day, October 8th, Darryl reported that three of the eight staff had quit. Fortunately the sales staff was still in place, but three production people had decided to call it quits, one because of health, the other two because of their loyalty to Steve Best, or their dislike for what the Chatham Shopper was trying to do.