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No Power? No Problem. Grab Some Coffee and News.

A year ago Max Kabat and Maisie Crow were featured in the New York Times after purchasing two West Texas newspapers, including the Big Bend Sentinel, and opening a cafe and cocktail bar in the middle of the town of Marfa.

A lot — and I mean A LOT — has happened in the year since that article was published. That includes some terrible things, like a global pandemic that has caused turmoil for the newspaper and service industries (and humankind in general). But some great things have happened, too, like the premiere screening of Crow’s documentary film, “At the Ready,” last month at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.

A few weeks after that screening, however, the couple was forced to meet yet another challenge head on — a rare Texas winter storm that knocked out power to a large portion of the state.

Marfa, which is in the high desert of West Texas, is prone to significant temperature drops overnight, but that's nothing like the sustained below-freezing cold front that swooped in Valentine’s Day weekend. 

A significant portion of Marfa lost power. That meant no heat for many who live in homes that aren’t well insulated. It also spelled trouble for those with electric stoves and hot water heaters. It also meant no high-speed internet. On top of that, cell phone service also was knocked out for the major carrier in the area, making it extremely difficult for people to get life-saving information.

That’s when Crow, Kabat and their teams at the newspaper and the cafe went into action.

“We thought, ‘How can we do this? What does the community need right now?’ Kabat said. “People need warmth, smiles, and they need to know that others are going through the same thing.”

The cafe didn’t have power, but it did have a gas stove. All of the food there had to be used right away or else it would spoil. So the cooking (and coffee making) commenced. They offered it up to everyone in town. Pay what you want, or don’t pay at all. The community was grateful.

Meanwhile, Crow, Kabat and the newspaper staff had to find a way to cover the storm and its aftermath, both online and in print. They found a friend of a friend in town whose house still had power and internet, so they packed up their computers and made that the newspaper’s new headquarters for a few days. 

They were able to produce the first half of that week’s paper there. They drove around town, when it was safe, to talk to officials and residents, but the roads were not good.

Eventually, ground zero for the newspaper transitioned to the local school, which was also ground zero for residents since it still had power. The school was turned into a warming station for the community. Local grocery stores donated food that was turned into free meals for anyone who could make it there. It was also a hub for information, both from officials and the Sentinel staff.

Speaking of the newspaper, the staff turned the teachers’ lounge into a makeshift newsroom and was able to update the website from there and finish putting together that week’s print edition.

Did they meet their print deadline? You bet. And remarkably, the printing company they use still had power, so in between snowstorms Kabat made the 2.5-hour trip to the press in his 4x4 to pick up the papers, drove them 2.5 hours back to Marfa, stuffed them and started making deliveries. Those who receive the paper via the postal service might have received the paper a little later than usual, but Kabat said the Sentinel was the only paper in the region that was delivered that week.

“It took a little longer to get it to some places,” Kabat said, “but people expect it.”

Kabat said he was glad the newspaper and the cafe was able to be there when the community needed them the most. And he knows how important the community is for them.

“We need them as much as they need us,” he said.

NewStart Update

It was a busy week for NewStart fellow Crystal Good, who not only continued work on her Black By God initiative, but also participated in three discussions: a RadicalxChange talk entitled "Data Coalitions in Development: Let's Unite!," where she told everyone "We mine the data, we should be paid for it;" a Vantage Ventures Diversify Real Talk Series episode; and a West Virginia Public Broadcasting "Us & Them" town hall discussion on how COVID-19 exposes racial inequalities.  

All of this comes after Good released the Citizen's Guide to Online Advocacy for the 2021 West Virginia Legislative Session.


Meanwhile, our fellowship/scholarship search committee should have some news in the next week or so on our Year 2 cohort.

If you didn't apply for a fellowship/scholarship yet and are interested in enrolling in the online master's degree program and earning a degree in Media Solutions and Innovation, the application period is now open to everyone! We have a limited number of slots, and they are already starting to be filled.

You can find out more about the program at this link, and then you can apply by clicking/tapping on the button below and following the instructions:
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As a reminder, we started a Facebook page for the NewStart program. So feel free to like or follow our page to check out some interesting links and thoughts each and every week and join in on the discussion.
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Beer Me

Find yourself a local brewer who is into local news...

Quick Hits

Here is a lot of news from around the world of local journalism. Enjoy! 

Learn: “There’s something about this town and my family and myself that this is where we belong, right at this time, and this is what we’re supposed to be doing,” Munson says. “And I’m glad to have had that to hold on to when things got so hard.” "I’ve been involved in several conversations over the last few years in which publishers (those with no full-time employees to those with several dozen) have sought advice or discussed the topic. I suspect I’ll have other conversations like them in the future, so I thought I’d just share some of the advice I most commonly give and have seen take place." "Here’s an idea to steal and adapt: If you want to maximize your digital subscription growth, you must have a focused plan on not only how to grow your subscriber base, but also how to retain and improve the engagement and loyalty of your current subscribers." "This low-effort business was a saving grace for many publishers during the lowest points of the coronavirus crisis, but in 2021, some are starting to lean in and strategize about how to make it even more lucrative as the e-commerce boom continues to grow." "More than 10,000 people immediately signed up as subscribers (the entry level is $8 a month; it costs a bit more for those who want to comment on stories). Tens of thousands of others would follow — enough to pay for the $50,000 minimum salaries of more than 20 staffers." "President Joe Biden announced a two-week signup window (starting Wednesday) for businesses with fewer than 20 employees to get COVID-related help from the government. I suspect that some of you freelancers will want to pay attention to this." "This year as America’s Black press celebrates 194 years since the founding of Freedom’s Journal in 1827, the sector is enjoying a renaissance fueled in large part by the murder of several unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police officers and the protests and calls for justice that ensued." “As advertising has waned, public notice has remained relatively constant and, because of that, become a larger and larger proportion of the newspaper business over time.”

Deals: "The Hot Springs Village Voice will be under new ownership following a sale to former publisher Jennifer Allen. Allen plans to purchase the paper from the current owner Gannett Media."  "Former lieutenant governor, senator and local businessman Kaleo Moylan has purchased the Pacific Daily News from subsidiaries of Gannett Co. Inc. The acquisition is scheduled to be finalized in April."

This An' 'At: No one bid the minimum of $25,000 for Benjamin Franklin's ''The Pennsylvania Journal'' newspaper, with the famous ''Unite or Die.'' masthead that became the rallying cry of the Revolutionary War. I'm disappointed in all of you. It looks like Patch is hiring in a lot of areas across the country.


That's all for this week. 

You can follow NewStart on Twitter @wvunewstart, and you can @ me @jimiovino.

Be like the fine folks at the Knight Foundation and the Benedum Foundation! Fund a NewStart fellowship position or a scholarship in Year 2! I'd be happy to talk! Seriously, I would love to offer more fellowships and scholarships, and you can help!

And don't forget, you can find NewStart online at

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