By LESLIE COLLINS
July 4, 2012
When Michael Bushnell first bought Northeast News, he was afraid to sit in the office furniture.
Wax covered everything.
“There were wax deposits on the floor that were almost a half an inch thick,” said Bushnell, co-owner and publisher of Northeast News.
Bushnell and his wife, Chris, purchased the newspaper in 1998 during the “cut and paste” era of newspapers. Using wax, staff would paste photos and articles onto sheets of grid paper to lay out the newspaper. Once laid out, the sheets were sent to the printing company to be photographed and printed.
“That’s the way I was brought up, so I didn’t know any differently,” Bushnell said of the cut and paste way.
Bushnell has long since nixed the wax and is now celebrating the newspaper’s 80th anniversary of serving Historic Northeast.
“I’m just happy to be a part of it, and I’m proud to be a part of it,” he said of the 80th anniversary. “You’re not just part of a newspaper, you’re part of an institution.”
One of the most significant changes Bushnell made to Northeast News was transform it from a shopper into a community driven newspaper.
“At the time, the Northeast News was not the Northeast News that we know now. It was a shopper,” Bushnell said. “If you wanted to get an article of any length in the newspaper, you had to buy an ad.
“We really turned the community on its ear from the standpoint of the calls that we were getting: ‘You’re messing up my schedule because now I have to stop and read this thing instead of just throwing it in the trash or using it in the grill or lining the bird cage.’ Those were all compliments that we took with great pride.”
During the early years, there were several mishaps. There was the time a disgruntled reader threw bricks through an office window and the time they lost power at the office. Bushnell and his staff then lugged the computers to his Northeast home and sat around his dining room table to work.
Although Bushnell likes the writing aspect of a newspaper, he most enjoys selling ads, he said. Both his father and grandfather were salesmen, and before purchasing Northeast News, Bushnell worked for more than 17 years in sales in the telecom and newspaper and magazine industries.
“Being the more gregarious person, I just like being out there and pushing my product,” he said.
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In 2001, Northeast News moved from its 4603 St. John location to its current location at 5715 St. John Ave., the same office building where Bushnell closed on his first house in Northeast.
By 2003, the newspaper finally made the jump to offering online content.
“I never thought I’d be in the Internet and the breaking news business,” Bushnell said. “I never thought that I would compete with radio and TV for breaking stories. Especially with a weekly community newspaper, the paradigm was today’s news next Wednesday. Breaking from that paradigm was incredible and eye opening.”
For Bushnell, offering content that other news outlets notice is rewarding and a bragging right.
“It’s pretty cool when you have a scrappy dirt kicker weekly in a forgotten neighborhood that beats electronic media with a breaking news story that affects the whole community,” he said. “The most recent form of that would be the Don Bosco story (regarding the organization’s finances) that other people have picked up. It makes me feel proud when other larger news outlets that should be in the breaking news business pick up what we’ve done and run a story we’ve broken.”
Bushnell also boasted that Northeast News is one of the last independently owned community newspapers in Kansas City. As a community newspaper, Northeast News focuses on a variety of topics that affect Northeast residents, whether it be a business profile, community block watch programs or neighborhood schools. While Northeast News reports on some negative issues, it also finds the positive happening within the community. Other news outlets tend to focus on the negatives in Northeast and Bushnell called those “drive-bys.” TV trucks will briefly park in Northeast reporting live from a scene, whether it be a fatal wreck, a homicide or a drug bust.
“We’re here every single day. We never really leave the scene,” Bushnell said. “While we might offer coverage of those events, there’s nobody over here that’s offering the love stories that were spawned at The Don Bosco Senior Center, there’s nobody over here that’s profiling neighborhood people or profiling a soccer team or a soccer coach that keeps kids off the street. That’s really not important to the mainstream media. That’s not journalism that sells to them.”
As Bushnell talked about the newspaper and Northeast, he made it clear he’s not going anywhere. And he’s not begrudging walking into work, either.
“I don’t consider this a job. It’s a career. It’s a passion. It’s a huge responsibility,” he said. “I’m one of the lucky ones. I really am. I’m doing what I love. I’m absolutely doing what I love.”