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Guest Column

Ten years ago this week, a newspaper veteran took a chance. And a relative newcomer in the industry began what’s been a dream gig.
My business partner and I celebrate 10 years of business this week. It’s been a helluva ride– with no doubt more peaks and valleys to come.
Our story started out pretty simply. Stu Clark, the publisher of the Tipton Conservative, was approached by the owners of the West Branch Times. They wanted to sell their operation to him. Stu heard from a neighbor– a friend of my family’s– that I, a 26-year-old in his second year as a newspaper editor in Minnesota, wanted to buy a paper.
My mother alerted me to the possible connection. I called Stu, a guy I didn’t recall ever talking to before, despite growing up in his town. Fifteen minutes later, we decided to go for it. Fifty-fifty.
West Branch Communications was born. Ten years later, the West Liberty Index, Mount Vernon-Lisbon Sun, Marion Times, Solon Economist and North Liberty Leader have joined the West Branch Times as papers in our Eastern Iowa company.
This family-owned business has worked because we’re focused first and foremost on creating quality newspapers that help their readers engage with their communities. We’re passionate about it.
We’ve been blessed to be surrounded by nearly 30 people who also care deeply about what they do. 
A lot has changed in the past 10 years. In 2001, we’d shoot six rolls of film at a Friday night football game, take them to the local photo processor Saturday morning, then scan the negatives. Today, we shoot hundreds of photos with digital cameras, download them, make a few quick edits and they’re ready for print. In 2001, we rarely printed color photos or ads– the cost was too prohibitive. Today, at least four pages are in color each week. In 2001, we had plenty of presses vying for our business. Today, there are only two or three, due to downsizing by large media corporations.
But the more things have changed, the more they’ve stayed the same.
We still yearn to cover prep athletes– from state titles (Mount Vernon-Lisbon girls and Solon boys come to mind), to programs with deeply rich histories (West Branch football, for instance), to the sometimes tough decisions student-athletes make (like the Linn-Mar wrestler who chose not to wrestle a girl at state).
We still feature the triumphs and challenges of our neighbors, from a family and community’s struggle with the untimely death of a baby in West Liberty to a Mount Vernon kid who’s made it big in the music business (with a Grammy to prove it).
We still know how important it is to tell the stories of lives lost too soon, from suicides to car crashes. And it’s still no easier to do than the first time.
We still put an emphasis on covering city hall and schools– keeping citizens informed on how their tax dollars are being spent, and how their leaders are acting.
We still cover businesses– from ribbon cuttings to new staff to anniversary celebrations. 
We still publish lots of pictures of our big celebrations– and realize every year that there’s no better place to have fun than right here in Eastern Iowa.
We still write opinions– and publish those from others– that cause us to tussle with city and school officials. Or don’t make our friends happy.
And we still lose sleep when we misspell a kid’s name or publish a wrong date.
The three most important constants in 10 years:
1– Although this is our business, we still believe deeply that it’s your newspaper. We are the caretakers.
2– We still operate in communities that get it. Our residents are highly engaged, and filled with pride about the place they call home. They care about what’s going on, so they care about the paper.
3– Business owners in our town are smart– they understand the value of investing in advertising to market their products and services.
There’s no doubt that change in this industry will be exponential in years to come. But we’ll be here. Covering you each and every week. And celebrating more decades of operating newspapers in small-town Iowa.