Community rallies to support Elizabethton newspaper's ex-carriers

John Thompson • Apr 10, 2014 at 10:54 AM

ELIZABETHTON — For decades the Elizabethton Star has enjoyed strong support in Elizabethton and Carter County, but in recent weeks that support is being directed to former employees of the newspaper and former carriers who were discharged in two downsizing moves by the Star’s new ownership.

Boone Newspapers Inc., a company that manages newspapers in several states in the South and Midwest, purchased the Star on Jan 1. The sale ended 59 years of control of the newspaper by Frank Robinson and his family.

Robinson and his family lived in Elizabethton and he was respected for his involvement and support of community. Those who were concerned about an out-of-state entity taking over the local institution found comfort in Boone’s philosophy: “We seek to produce the highest quality product the economics of the community served can support. And then, by ingenuity and imagination, we strive for a higher quality in an effort to serve and build that community.”

Lynn Richardson, publisher of the Star, declined to be interviewed for this story. “We are in business to report the news, not make it,” she said. An afternoon call to Todd Carpenter, Boone’s president, chief operating officer and director, was not returned by press time.

In February, a month after the newspaper was sold, the staff was told that about 10 employees were being let go. They included employees in the business office who had been with the newspaper for decades, as well as veterans of the newsroom.

Bryan Stevens was one of those who was released. He served as assistant editor, lifestyles editor and director of photography. In addition to his editorial work, Stevens also wrote two popular columns, one on bird watching and the other reviewing restaurants in the region.

Stevens said there was strong encouragement in the community for him to continue his columns, so he has turned to the Internet. He now has turned blogger with diningdestinations.wordpress.com and ourfinefeatheredfriends.wordpress.com.

“I am looking around for work but right now the only thing I have is an adjunct position at (East Tennessee State University),” Stevens said of his efforts to get back into the workplace.

Stevens is also considering writing a book and he has been spending time with his father, former Carter County Commissioner Amos Stevens, who is recovering from a recent illness.

The second round of layoffs came this month, when the Star dismissed most of its newspaper carriers. The newspaper management has decided to use the U.S. Postal Service to make deliveries to its customers. Like the earlier employees who were laid off, many of the carriers devoted decades to delivering the Star.

Linda Peters is one of those carriers, having delivered the newspaper for about 50 years, she said. She does not recall the exact date she started.

“I had a lot of friends on my route,” Peters said. She also enjoyed her friendships with other workers at the Star. “I miss them,” she said.

Peters said the 16 carriers received no advance warning. When they made inquiries about a possible layoff, she said they were told it was just “rumors.” Then they got the word and were told they would receive four weeks of severance pay only when they returned all the orange Star delivery tubes that were on their route. The back roads of Carter County look very different without the orange tubes revealing themselves around every bend in the road.

Peters said delivering papers was hard work with no benefits and no vacations. “If we needed to take a day off, we had to pay someone to run the route for us.” She said she had two small accidents this treacherous winter. She wasn’t hurt, but she did have to get a wrecker to get the car out. She said she had to pay for the repairs to the car and new tires out of the money she earned from delivering the papers.

Peters said she plans to keep busy by helping her grandchildren, who run Dixie’s Diner at 1791 Stoney Creek Highway.

To help Peters and the other carriers, her granddaughter, Autumn Harris, said the diner has dedicated half its profits this week to the carriers. There is also a donation jar to provide them with some extra help. She said H and H Meats in Stoney Creek has helped the restaurant by providing meat at a special rate during the promotion.

Harris said the restaurant’s business has picked up this week as a result. The total sales have not yet been figured, but she said there have been $150 in donations. The proceeds will be split evenly by the carriers.

Harris said the restaurant also operates the concessions stand for the Liberty Championship Wrestling matches at the Elizabethton National Guard Armory. She said the restaurant’s policy of giving half its profits to the carriers will also apply to the concession stand. Gates open at 6:15 p.m. Saturday.

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