WEBB CITY, Mo. — The Webb City Sentinel & Wise Buyer, a weekly newspaper that’s been in operation in Webb City since 1879, will publish its last print edition in January.
Bob Foos, owner and editor, announced the decision on Wednesday’s front page, asking his readers to stop sending in their annual payments to renew subscriptions.
“About this time each year, we are gratified when loyal readers begin sending in their subscription renewal payments for the next year,” Foos wrote. “To those readers, we regretfully say, ‘Hold off this time.’ Unless something unforeseen happens, we’re going to stop printing the Sentinel in January. Given the obvious state of the newspaper business, this news may be expected.”
With digital media changing the American news landscape, newspapers have been struggling to continue print publications. U.S. newspaper circulation fell in 2018 to its lowest level since 1940, the first year with available data, according to the Pew Research Center. Advertising revenue fell from $37.8 billion in 2008 to $14.3 billion in 2018, a 62% decline, the center reported.
Foos, 70, told the Globe that he’s been debating the idea of discontinuing the paper over the past six months and only recently decided that it was time for him to retire.
“I tried to sell it in the past, and it just hadn’t worked out," he said. "I came to the conclusion that there’s not enough revenue in it to sell it. We have about 1,100 subscribers.”
Foos and his wife, Ann, purchased the Sentinel in 1979. Previously, Foos traveled to the area from Wichita after landing a job with Channel 16 in Joplin and had worked at the Carthage Press for two years. Foos said he was working at a newspaper in Illinois when he realized he was fonder of community journalism, which is how he landed at the Sentinel, where he has stayed for 41 years.
“Then I went back to school at MU (University of Missouri) and got my bachelor’s in journalism, and I bought this paper,” he said.
He said his wife was teaching at Webb City and that he covered Webb City when he worked at the Carthage Press.
He said at the time, the owners of the Sentinel were just keeping the legal status of the paper, that it really wasn’t being published. "They just had a small number of subscribers, and when I came here, most people didn’t even know they still had a Sentinel. What we really bought was the Wise Buyer (a shopper) at the time.”
The Sentinel was then revitalized under Foos’ ownership. The editor said he never knew he would end up becoming a journalist and didn’t even like his writing until he was a one-man show at the Sentinel.
“I got into it from photography, which is what I liked the best,” Foos said. “Then I had to learn how to write, and I always did like laying the paper out.”
Ups and downs
Newsroom employment at U.S. newspapers dropped by 47% between 2008 and 2018, from about 71,000 workers to 38,000, according to the Pew Research Center. As editor, Foos works alongside two employees — Vicki Groff, bookkeeper, and Betty Whipple, who does ad layout.
“Vicki actually came to me earlier in the year and said she was going to quit and you need to train/hire someone, and I said, ‘No, I’ll quit too.’”
The community paper has experienced its own ups and downs over the years. It was a daily newspaper until the 1950s.
In recent years, the Sentinel was printed at the Neosho paper's plant, but that printing operation was shut down. Foos credits the Globe for helping keep the Sentinel alive by printing it in-house.
The Wise Buyer name will go back to the original family that owned it, Hal Wise Sr. and Hal Wise Jr.
While working at the Sentinel, Foos said, he’s grown closer to the Webb City community and loves how residents' pride in the town has grown over the years.
As far as what’s next for Foos, he said retirement has never been a goal of his and that he’d like to continue writing online in some fashion.
“I’d like to do something on the web and not have to be on a schedule or a deadline every week to be more flexible, so it doesn’t tie me down as much,” he said. “I don’t know how it’s going to work out. I would like to see it continue, but not in a layout like a newspaper. And I could do this nonprofit. I’ve delayed taking Social Security until now, so I don’t need the salary. I wouldn’t have to worry about selling advertising.”
Longtime subscriber Jeanne Newby has written for the Sentinel for 31 years. Newby said writing her history column for the paper opened up several doors for her, including a closer relationship with the local school district, and helped her spark some people’s love for history.
“I’ve talked to many people over the years,” she said. “It has put me really close to the heart of Webb City. I really had a good time. I am working on a book of all of the articles I’ve done, so maybe I’ll have time to finish it now.”
Foos said he appreciates all of the support from the community over the years.
“It was really gratifying, especially in the early years, to bring community journalism back,” he said.