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MossColumn: Why I made the Lightning

Happy birthday to us!

The Hendersonville Lightning turned 2 years old last week. The newspaper debuted on May 9, 2012, with coverage of the primary election.
Some people said we'd never make it.
People in the industry were the biggest doubters but that was because they were practitioners of corporate-owned journalism, a species that has troubles that a business model like ours avoids.
Our subscription renewal rate is 87 percent, 30 points higher than the industry average. We receive praise from readers. According to the North Carolina Press Association contest, we have the best website in the state and we published the best investigative reporting among newspapers our size.
Why did I make the Lightning? People asked me to.
In 2010 and 2011, while I was working in a consulting job repairing broken newspapers, I started thinking maybe I'd do what they asked. I could come home and put into practice what I was training reporters, photographers and editors to do. Stick a notebook in your hip pocket and sling a camera around your neck and start showing up every place where people gather, I implored. You can't learn anything in here, I said. Get out.

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Because they see me at so many meetings, fundraisers and news events, people ask me if I ever sleep. Yes, I do. But I'm more excited than ever to get up early and go scout for news. Armed with nothing more than a pen, a pad and a Canon, I might fill a notebook and snap a hundred frames before noon. To me it's fun work but also important work. Local news matters.
How come I made the Lightning? Because I wanted to try and practice a brand of journalism that was as good as our extraordinary community deserved.
I hired the two best people I could find to help me produce the newspaper and website — office manager/designer/legal ad specialist/receptionist/circulation assistant/public notary Denise Ward and advertising director Paula Roberts.
Don't take my word for it.
Our bookkeeper, Lorrie Fernandez, told me about an episode that I hope represents our culture.
"I overheard a telephone conversation today between Denise and a subscriber," Lorrie said in an email. "It seems the subscriber did not receive her paper and Denise told her that she would happily drop a paper off to her on her way home from work tonight (Friday). NO businesses give this kind of customer service."
At least one does.
I'm an ink-stained veteran, a grizzled hand at the part of the craft that can be — at times must be — adversarial. I'm not warm and fuzzy all the time.
But from the start I wanted the Lightning to exhibit on the business side — circulation, marketing and advertising —over-the-top customer service.
So instead of knocking off at 5 o'clock and racing home to put the Lightning out of mind, Denise drove out of her way to satisfy a customer. I know Paula would do the same, has done it I am sure.

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At a fundraising event back in March, a friend sat down next to me as I tried to balance a plate of hors d'oeuvres and a cup of beer.
The Lightning seemed to have become the newspaper people read, she told me. She went on to say lots of other nice things about the paper. Then she asked, "Are you surprised?"
Although I had never been asked that before, I answered instantly. No, I said. We're doing exactly what we said we would do, and it's working like I knew it would work. People want local news. If people see the Lightning, they like the Lightning and they want the Lightning.

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Last week I was talking to some Edneyville farmer friends who did not know how to get home delivery of the Lightning. Imagine!
You can call us up (828.698.0407), cut out the subscription form on Page 5 or visit and click on "Subscribe" in the upper right corner. The paper comes in the mail on Thursday.
If you're not already a friend of the Lightning, subscribing is your birthday present to us. We'll repay you 52 times.
We thought about a birthday party but said no. I don't like birthday cake. Besides, we don't have time.


Bill Moss, editor and publisher of the Lightning, can be reached at