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Neosho natives debut new hometown paper

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by Christen Jackson

SBJ Contributing Writer

Two Neosho natives have brought a new newspaper to their hometown.

Owned and operated by Jimmy and Rhonda Sexton, the Neosho Post debuted in March and has already developed a large following, which includes subscribers in more than 10 states.

The Post reports to one audience, said Jimmy Sexton the residents of Neosho. The broadsheet newspaper is published each Wednesday and is

delivered by mail and sold in several Neosho stores.

Everything in the newspaper is local, and there are never any Associated Press or other types of wire stories.

"People got so tired of just reading bad news, we wanted to put out a paper with the good news in it," Rhonda Sexton said.

When picking up the Post, readers won't find pictures of car wrecks or structure fires, stories on crime or court news.

"There is more positive stuff going on in this town, and we want to tell people about it," said Rhonda Sexton.

Each week the Neosho Post features a calendar of events for the community, schools, sports teams and area churches; education news; features on area people; editorials; columns written by Neosho professionals, such as a dentist, a physical therapist and a chiropractor; features on local history; and Realtor news and listings of homes.

"Since we were both raised here, we know the interesting flavor of this town," said Rhonda Sexton. "We want to project that."

Both are Neosho High School graduates Jimmy Sexton graduated in 1986, Rhonda Sexton in 1988.

"We dated on and off in high school, and I tried to convince her that I was the one for her, but it never seemed to sink in," said Jimmy Sexton. "It was years later when she came to her senses."

While both Sextons admit to a deep love for the town they grew up in, they also acknowledge that each was eager to test their wings outside southwest Missouri.

After graduating from Crowder Community College in Neosho, Rhonda Sexton made her way to Dallas.

"As soon as I could I left Neosho," she said. "I'd always imagined myself living in a big city."

Jimmy Sexton started off as a business major at Missouri Southern State College in Joplin.

"I thought I wanted to be a banker and be rich," he said.

After joining the staff of The Chart, MSSC's student newspaper, he realized that he would prefer a career in journalism.

"I had always loved to read and write, and once I started working at The Chart, I knew newspapers were for me," he said.

Upon graduating from MSSC, Sexton was hired by the Boone Group newspaper chain at its Baxter Springs, Kan., newspaper. He was then transferred to a newspaper in Texas, and it was there that he and Rhonda began dating again.

Another transfer took the couple to Miami, Okla., where Jimmy Sexton became associate publisher of the Miami News-Record. While living in Miami, the couple married and began putting down roots. However, after 11 months, Boone Group transferred Jimmy Sexton to Mississippi, where they lived for another 11 months before being transferred back to Texas.

In between the moves, the couple had their first child and began to consider where they wanted to raise their daughter.

"Moving people around is how corporations work, and it's OK for a while, but everything changes when you have kids," Jimmy Sexton said. "There's a lot of stress involved in working for a big corporation, and I couldn't see running a family around the country."

Their goals began to change, Rhonda Sexton said, and both wanted their daughter to grow up in their hometown Neosho. "We wanted our daughter to grow up with family around her," Rhonda Sexton said.

Jimmy Sexton resigned from Boone Group, and in October 1997, the couple moved back to Neosho. After the move, he began to consider several business opportunities.

"We didn't move back here to start a newspaper," Jimmy Sexton said. "It was just a chain of events. Once we moved back here a number of people mentioned that the town needed another newspaper. I love newspapers, and I always wanted to own my own. It just seemed like doors opened and everything just came together."

By early November, the decision was made, and the couple decided to debut the newspaper in March.

Initially, everything was done on a shoestring budget because the Sextons wanted to be the sole owners of the newspaper there were no financial backers.

They did everything themselves from designing the layout of the newspaper to developing the budget.

The newspaper started in the back of Jimmy Sexton's sister's cellular telephone store. There was one computer on which Jimmy wrote all the stories, while Rhonda sold all of the ads.

Most merchants were receptive to the idea of a second newspaper Neosho already had one newspaper, the Neosho Daily News although a few were skeptical, Rhonda Sexton said.

"I just told them that competition is good for everyone," she said. "I asked them if they would be happy if this town just had one bank or one grocery store."

All of the newspaper layout is done electronically, and it is delivered on disk to Bentonville, Ark., where the newspaper is printed.

The newspaper hit the streets March 4 and rapidly built a following. "We didn't think it would grow nearly this fast," said Rhonda Sexton. "By the third edition, the advertising part was more than I could keep up with by myself."

The Neosho Post quickly got its own office on the Neosho Square, and the staff has grown to include three in the newsroom, two in sales and two general office employees. The Post was even able to hire the Neosho Daily News' sports editor. All staff members are long-time Neosho residents.

"One thing we stress is that it's a hometown team," Jimmy Sexton said. "Nobody cares about this town like we do. We are here to stay."

The Sextons are beginning to discuss taking the weekly paper to twice weekly, and they eventually plan to make it a daily operation.

"I want this paper to become part of the community," Jimmy Sexton said. "I am strong on family and tradition, and I want to start something in this community that everyone will be proud of and will continue long into the future."

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