Public News (Houston)
|Type||Print publication/Online publication|
|Owner(s)||Richard Tomcala (1982-circa 1984)|
Bert Woodall (circa 1984-1998)
|Website||publicnews.com at the Wayback Machine (archive index)|
Public News (PN) was an alternative newspaper in Houston, Texas established in 1982 and disestablished in 1998, with its assets acquired by the Houston Press, another alternative newspaper. It was headquartered at 2038 Lexington in Houston. For most of its history, the owner was Bert Woodall. In 1997 the circulation was 47,000. It was produced each Tuesday, and distributed for free. It had a focus on the arts, including music. Each edition had 32 pages. It had a cooperation agreement with the Alternative Weekly Network (AWN), but was not a member of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN).
Jim Sherman, who once wrote articles for the newspaper, described it as "the only publication that a lot of people that are alienated by the mainstream media thought had any integrity" and that "It was almost like the tribal drums of the inner loop counter-culture for 16 years." Marty Racine of the Houston Chronicle wrote that "the uneven Public News has a fiercely independent if Houston-Proud spirit that puts it in a category of its own." Claudia Kolker, from the same newspaper, wrote that many Houstonians thought of the Public News as being their "community property" even while admitting that it "had many flaws".
Richard Tomcala created the publication as a flier in 1982 to advertise a nightclub, and this morphed into a newspaper. Bert Woodall volunteered at the publication and, around 1984, bought the publication in two increments, spending $25,000 (about $60289.88 inflation-adjusted) for the first 51% and additional funds for the remainder six months after the initial purchase. He borrowed the initial payment from his parents, who were a part of a family of owners of small newspapers. Woodall, who was from Kansas, grew up in Jacksonville, Texas. In 1973 he arrived in Houston and, after working as a laborer for a period, enrolled in university. He graduated from the University of Houston with a political science degree circa 1983, after nine years of study.
For much of the publication's history, Woodall had difficulty managing the paper due to his alcoholism, and he admitted to being "stoned" in his final editorial. Woodall had stated "We might not have been in business if I'd been sober all along. I might not have been crazy enough." In other words, Woodall had argued that he would have been frightened away from operating Public News if he had a bodily system free of recreational drugs as that would have allowed him to fully consider the financial complications of the business.
As a result of his drug problems, his only written contributions to the newspaper were some editorials, and other employees held management roles that normally would have gone to Woodall. In addition, the paper often had issues with its finances and debt. The salaries of the employees were relatively low, and many of the writers wrote for no payment. The paper did not have full-time editors. Woodall regained some control of the management aspect after he quit drinking alcohol in 1997.
According to Woodall, the paper's fate was sealed due to two advertising quarters with insufficient revenue; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wanted him to pay the agency $20,000 (about $30743.16 inflation-adjusted) each month. The paper's bill to the IRS totaled $70,000 (about $107601.06 inflation-adjusted). Woodall asked the owners of the Houston Press, New Times Media, to take over the paper's assets and he declined an offer from the New Times for a loan that would allow him to continue publication; Woodall cited financial issues as the reason he declined the offer. New Times was interested in obtaining Public News' advertising relationships and lists as well as the physical assets.
On July 8, 1998, the final Public News issue was released, and the publication was liquidated the following day. Woodall wrote the final editorial, in which he stated "I am not and will likely never be a very good businessman." The Houston Press acquired the assets of Public News, including its advertising information, circulation racks, circulation stops, computer equipment, and equipment for production, in exchange for an undisclosed sum which resolved all of the IRS debt. Woodall stated that after the sale, he was seeking employment and did not make a lot of money from it. Three employees of Public News' sales department were offered jobs, and two began working for the Houston Press upon acceptance of their job offers. The administrative employees, numbering nine, lost their jobs.
The paper included editorials written by Woodall as well as sports columns by Red Connelly, information on clubs catering to counter-culture groups, and information on alternative theater. A Houston Press feature writer and music critic, Brad Tyler, described Woodall's editorials as "the only out-and-out leftist, -I'm-a-liberal editorials around." Kolker stated "Some say Woodall's own writing was the most distinctive feature." Kolker described Connelly's columns as "saucy" and that some community members gave praise to the column.
- Kolker, Claudia (1998-07-19). "Public News' demise silences counterculture `drums'". Houston Chronicle. p. A29.[permanent dead link] - Newsbank Record: 3070190 - Available from the Houston Public Library newspapers archive, accessible with a library card PIN and a password
- "About Public News." Public News. July 27, 1997. Retrieved on November 5, 2017. "Offices are located at 2038 Lexington, Houston, Texas 77098-4222."
- Racine, Marty (1990-04-23). "Showcase concerts prove uneven". Houston Chronicle. p. 1. - Newsbank Record: 04*23*698883 - Available from the Houston Public Library newspapers archive, accessible with a library card PIN and a password
- Zurowski, Cory (1998-07-22). "New Times' Houston Press Buys Rival Paper". Association of Alternative Newsmedia. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
- Connelly, Richard (2009-08-09). "In Case You Missed It: A Little Bit Of The Public News Returns". Houston Press. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
The incomparable Bert Woodall admitted he probably would have never kept the enterprise going if he had been sober enough to grasp the financial folly of it,[...]
- Carroll, Chris (1998-07-20). "Houston Press acquires Public News assets as alternative folds". Houston Business Journal. Retrieved 2017-11-04.