Oglethorpe County, we hear you.
Dozens of readers of The Oglethorpe Echoreached out to say, “We love our newspaper. Please don’t let it die. The community needs The Echo. How can we help?”
The groundswell of support started two weeks ago, when longtime editor and publisher Ralph Maxwell announced his intention to close the 148-year-old newspaper on Sept. 30. The weekly newspaper has been in the Maxwell family since 1956.
One of the first readers to step forward was veteran newspaperman Dink NeSmith of the Smithonia community. His wife Pam owns Historic Smithonia Farm, a wedding and event venue. He is co-owner of Athens-based Community Newspapers Inc., publisher of more than two dozen daily and weekly newspapers in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.
“My goal isn’t to buy The Echo,” NeSmith said. “Instead, I am planning for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation to own and operate the newspaper. I will be a non-paid volunteer. The Maxwell family has agreed to donate the newspaper to the new entity.”
Ralph Maxwell said, “Oglethorpe County has been good to me and my family; more important, it is home and has been to several generations of my father’s family. However, after more than 40 years, it is time for me to step aside. We are humbled by all the kind words, and we are especially proud that there is hope that The Echo will live on.”
After meeting with NeSmith earlier this month, Maxwell and his staff agreed to extend their commitment until Oct. 31. On Nov. 1, the publishing responsibilities will transition to the new company, The Oglethorpe Echo Legacy Inc. “That’s the name on our incorporation application with the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office,” NeSmith said.
“The devil is always in the details,” he continued. “We have more questions than answers at this point. But we know that if you have the will, you can find a way to make things happen. With the help of others, we will find way to keep The Echocoming into your homes and businesses.”
He stressed that the newspaper would be relying on subscriptions, single-copy sales, advertising and tax-deductible donations to support the new company. “You have to be a good business before you can be a good anything else,” NeSmith added.
A significant addition to The Echo, starting in November, will be a team of college interns from UGA’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “After that initial conversation with Ralph,” NeSmith said, “I called Dean Charles Davis to test a possibility. The dean was quick to endorse the idea. We both see this as an excellent opportunity for journalism students and the community. Planning is in overdrive to be ready in 30 days. Stand by. More details are forthcoming.”
Dean Davis said, “Grady College believes in the power of community journalism, and we’re working on a variety of ways to make The Echoa new living laboratory for our students. We want to be a community partner in an exciting new venture.”
“Everywhere we turn,” NeSmith said, “people are asking how they can help. One example is the full cooperation of brothers Bobby and Kevin Miller, partners in Crawford’s Greater Georgia Printers (GGP), where The Echoprints each week. The Maxwell family was one of the original founders of GGP, and they are still stockholders.”
“I have a lot of faith in the experience and knowledge of Dink NeSmith and Charles Davis to pull this off. I think that Oglethorpe County deserves a good weekly newspaper, and I am confident that these two have both the commitment and the resources to deliver that product. As my time comes to an end here at The Echo, it feels really good to know that it will continue on into a bright future,” Maxwell said.