Editor’s note: An audio interview with Justin Addison is available below. He talks about owning and operating a publication that not only has extensive historical significance but is also his hometown newspaper.
By Kristin Kuchno
Missouri School of Journalism
Fayette thrives on tradition and neighbors are well acquainted with one another. That’s what Meggan Bruner said makes the Fayette Advertiser newspaper so interesting to read, because she knows the individuals it covers.
Bruner was born in Fayette and lived there until graduating from high school. Her mother, who still lives in town, sends her article clippings from decades ago. “There’s things that happened a long time ago that she will send me, and that’s probably my favorite part to read now,” she said.
The Fayette Advertiser started in Glasgow in 1840 as the Howard County Banner. It is Missouri’s third oldest newspaper still in publication, behind the Hannibal Courier-Post and the Palmyra Spectator.
The original owner’s name is unknown. It is believed that W.B. Twombly operated the newspaper in Glasgow, according to a September 1990 article written in celebration of its 150-year anniversary. The following publisher relocated it to Fayette. It turned into the Fayette Advertiser in 1916 after going through multiple ownerships over the years.
Today, the Advertiser is operated by a team of three: Justin Addison, editor and publisher, Kevin Oeth, sports editor and Linda Vroman, office manager.
It serves all of Howard County, with its office on Main Street in Fayette. The town is small in comparison to some other homes of weekly newspapers; Fayette had a population of 2,693 as of 2019, according to the United States Census Bureau.
The Democrat-Leader newspaper, once a competing publication, combined with the Advertiser in 1925 and was described as “two newspapers in one.” Each published once a week, but under the same ownership. The Democrat-Leader ran on the weekends and the Advertiser ran during the week.
Enduring local news
Denny Davis, who became editor in 1984, was the second Fayette native to run the papers — the first being John B. Clark Jr. in the late 1800s. Current publisher Addison, a Fayette High School graduate, is the third.
Davis retired but continued working for a few more years and trained Addison, who was the sports editor from 2002 to 2009.
“He was the editor emeritus, so to speak,” Addison said. “He did all the proofreading and it was his red pen that I got to love and hate.”
Pat Roll purchased the papers in 2011. Due to economic difficulties, the papers shortened to once a week in 2017 and kept the Fayette Advertiser name. Addison and his wife, Dr. Sonya Addison, bought the paper in 2018.
The need to kill the Democrat-Leader was not the first struggle the mid-Missouri paper faced. During the Civil War, Union soldiers destroyed the office — Howard County had the largest population of enslaved people in the state in 1850, according to the Historic and Architectural Resources of Fayette, Missouri.
In 1882, a fire also caused damage, resulting in the loss of many papers and files. Advertising has fluctuated over the years, with local businesses enduring the financial burdens of the Great Depression and World War II.
Addison said his biggest goal was to put out the best newspaper he could. Because he is only one of two writers on the staff, he attends all town meetings. This includes city council, school board and ambulance board.
Vroman has been on the staff the longest. She joined in 1984 at 24 years old. As office manager, she handles all advertisements and customer service.
“I’d be in real trouble without her,” Addison said in regard to her advertisement designs. “She’s irreplaceable in that role.”
And the sports editor, Oeth? He’s also the town’s mayor.
The community elected him in June 2020. He then joined the newspaper staff in November. He covers all sports for Central Methodist University in addition to the five surrounding high schools. Addison said they set strict boundaries between the work Oeth does as mayor and their responsibilities in covering news.
Today, the paper serves not only those in Howard County, but natives who have moved away, too. They mail their weekly papers to most of the 50 states, and people from all over the country view their online news site.
In resident Peggy O’Connell’s case, she bought a subscription for her parents in St. Louis. She moved to town to attend CMU before getting married and having children, and wanted to keep her parents updated on the town.
Bruner, the Fayette native, finds significance in reading the clippings her mother sends her.
“I think once you grow up with people being from a small town it’s more like a family, like an extended family,” she said. “It’s like a way to keep connected with people that you knew for 20 years of your life.”
Kuchno is a student at the Missouri School of Journalism.