GREENVILLE – The Early Bird recently completed its 50th year of service to Darke County and while much has changed over the last half-century, the desire to provide readers with news and information about the people, places and events in the county as well as a desire to build-up local businesses through advertising opportunities has been consistent. The Early Bird was the vision of John Ball and although he passed away in 2011, his mark remains on the newspaper. The newspaper and website, Bluebag Media, were purchased in June 2012 by brothers, Keith and Fred Foutz. Keith and wife Peggy eventually became sole owners – keeping the newspaper locally-owned and operated.
During the newspaper’s infancy, Ball kept notes describing the progress of the newspaper.
The first issue of The Early Bird was published in mid-November 1968 and contained four pages. It was delivered by third class mail to 3,000 homes in the Arcanum, West Manchester, Verona and Laura areas. Ball wrote, “The biggest factor leading to the decision to publish such a shopper was the need expressed by advertisers for a better means of reaching more people in their market since the newspaper went only to those who subscribed to it or who purchased it over the counter.”
Sutton’s Super Valu has been a big part of The Early Bird’s existence. Ball was looking for a way to make their two-page flyer profitable as Ball’s costs were more than he was charging. The press had the capacity of printing eight pages and Ball felt if he could sell the other six pages “we could turn a loser into a winner…and at the same time give the advertisers the exposure they asked for. Mr. Sutton agreed and The Early Bird was born.”
By June 1969, distribution stood at 12,500 copies and included the northern half of Darke County. Greenville was the only part of the county not covered.
Ball wrote, “The capacity of our press at Arcanum is 2,000 eight-page papers per hour, which meant that printing a 16-pager took two full working days.” With success came the need to out-source the printing.
In June 1970, The Early Bird expanded its circulation to include Greenville. A few months later, The Early Bird began home and business delivery by carrier.
As the paper’s news staff grew they were able to drop the “shopper” designation and eventually received the status of “newspaper of record.”
The Early Bird’s distribution currently exceeds 28,000 homes and businesses.
One person that saw what Ball went through to make The Early Bird successful was his son, Al Ball. Al stated the paper “became his whole life.” He remembered the long hours his dad put in trying to get a newspaper printed. On bigger papers, John would be at the press for days at a time. Al recalled the many times he would get the large paper roll threaded and ready to go. After it was going for a while they would hear the loud bang of the paper ripping. John was persistent and would start over.
According to a recent audit, readership of The Early Bird remains high and the company has adapted to changing times with its website, Bluebag Media, and a strong social media presence, which has allowed them to become the county’s first choice for daily news.
The Ohio Senate recently honored The Early Bird and Bluebag Media with a proclamation signed by 12th District Senator Matt Huffman and Senate President Larry Obhof in recognition of its 50th anniversary. The proclamation states, “Recognition of this prestigious milestone is a fitting tribute to The Early Bird Newspaper and Bluebag Media, for since its inception in 1968, it has provided Darke County residents with praiseworthy coverage of current events and of important issues that affect the community. Both entertaining and thought provoking, the periodical has earned the loyalty of a devoted readership and has certainly distinguished itself as a fine Ohio news publication.”
PHOTO CAPTION: The current employees and freelancers include (from left) Ryan Berry, Paul Ackley, Amy Addis, Becky Snyder, Jessica Winn, Jane Kaiser, Denise Good, Susan Hartley, Keith Foutz, Linda Moody, Angie Crisp, Clinton Randall, Amber Godwin, Louanna Gwinn, Gaylen Blosser, Shannie Denney, Annette Sanders, and Johnathon Denney.