Community news turns 58
For The Record
In the newspaper business, publishers often come and go like the proverbial water under the bridge, but that hasn’t been the case for the Penny Record and the County Record newspapers.
The Penny Record, which was founded here in 1958, has had only four people at the helm while growing from a small handout to a full-sized paper with a circulation of more than 20,000 that includes the distribution of it’s sister publication, the County Record, founded by the Dunn family of Bridge City in 1995. The County Record is distributed throughout the Greater Orange County area. The Penny Record is the hometown newspaper of Bridge City and Orangefield.
The publications have earned numerous Excellence In Media Awards from the Press Club of Southeast Texas. The Record has earned “Best Non-Daily Newspaper” numerous times through the years. The newspaper’s staff have also been awarded for individual honors in community news, columns, sport features, page design and photography.
Walter Gaston was the first publisher of the Penny Record, and he held the reins until he retired. The publication started as a small magazine style community newspaper.
“It was a 6 by 8 on bond paper,” Gaston recalled. “We called it The Penny Record because we would run giveaway ads, like when somebody would give away a dog or something for a penny. It was always a free paper, just like it is now, and we started out delivering about a thousand of them every week. Bridge City wasn’t near as big then as it is now.”
The creation of the newspaper came about by accident.
“We owned Bridge City Printing and one day a salesman came in and we were sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and talking about this and that. He started telling us about this and that. He started telling us that back East little local papers were doing real well and making money.
“The printing business wasn’t making much, so just to have something else to do while the commercial printing got going we started The Penny Record. Next thing we knew, it was doing so well we had to drop the printing company. There just wasn’t time for it.”
The fledgling publication was a family operation with all family members contributing to production.
“When we started, it was just me, the wife and our two daughters,” Gaston continued. “We did everything from the janitor work on up. We made a living out of the paper. We didn’t get rich, that was for sure, but we did all right.”
For each daughter’s part, they received a new car at graduation. The eldest also got a six-week tour of Europe.
The original paper, Gaston said, contained “routine stuff, day in and day out.”
And when the Bridge City teams played well, “we followed them.”
Much like today, members of the community contributed to the paper, calling in items of interest.
“We were the second offset type newspaper in the area,” Gaston said. “The first was called The Nederland Review, I think.
“One time I ran a coupon for Bob Bru, who was the manager of the Village Theatre in Port Arthur at the time. And it offered free admission with the coupon. Back then if you got a 5 percent return on something like that, it was good. Of the 1,000 we printed and delivered that week, 800 coupons were brought in to them. That’s pretty good percentages, I’d say.”
Eventually the business outgrew the family, Gaston said.”I was meeting myself going to other meetings and involved in so much,” he said.
He sold the publication to Shannon Messer, publisher No. 2, in 1987. Messer was the backbone of the operation and did a little of everything from doing the books to rolling the papers for delivery.
William Smith, owner of Central Office Supply, became the third publisher when he bought the paper in October 1993.
“It was fun,” Smith said. “It just got to be too much. I’d still have that paper, but it was so busy in the store and there were demands at the paper. Eventually I had to pick one or the other – and I picked the store.”
In August 1995, Smith sold his stock in The Penny Record to Roy Dunn, stockholder, and others. Roy Dunn became it’s fourth publisher. The Dunn family, Roy, Phyllis, and Mark are all contributors in the publications success.
The Penny Record and the County Record newspapers are brought to you each week by a small but hardworking staff of newspaper professionals. The Dunn family founded The Opportunity Valley News in the 1970s and continues the tradition of excellence in hometown news.