Despite Roof's Collapse, Cleveland's Newspaper Keeps Presses Hot

Friday, February 6th 2015, 6:48 pm
By: Tess Maune

They've been writing the story of Cleveland for close to a century, but now The Cleveland American itself is the news.

This week, the roof of the newspaper's office unexpectedly caved into the historic building. But the setback hasn't stopped the presses.

A frame of 2x4s is now reinforcing a side wall to make sure it doesn't collapse.

The print shop inside the Cleveland American building is almost unrecognizable. Splintered pieces of wood are dangling from rafters as the sun blows in through an opening in the tarp that is now blanketing the caved-in roof.

“Everything that was above is now below,” publisher Rusty Ferguson said.

Rusty walked into the mess on Sunday and noticed an out of the ordinary draft.

“I thought ‘that's weird,' he said. “So I found where the wind was coming from, [and] the roof was not on the building.”

When the roof crashed in, standing water fell down with it and narrowly missed wiping out the newspaper's precious archive collection -- every edition ever printed since the early 1900s.

“It may not be valuable monetarily, but it's just valuable history,” Rusty said.

The paper has been in the Ferguson family since 1931, chronicling the oil boom town as it flourished around statehood and all the ups and downs and in betweens.

Rusty's grandfather ran the American for years before passing the business down to Rusty's dad, Larry, who eventually handed the reins to Rusty.

“We all enjoy the news business, in our blood, yeah,” Larry Ferguson said. “We've come a long way from the way it was back then.”

Small-town newspapers have always been the heartbeat of communities like Cleveland. But with social media booming and Main Street advertisement deals dwindling, times are tight.

“He has to do a lot more work than he did at one time in order to make the books try to balance,” Larry said.

“The advertising base of most small town newspapers is not what it was and that's your bread and butter, so that's where most small town's papers are suffering,” Rusty added.

What's not suffering though, according to Rusty, is readership. And a community newspaper remains a consistent, written connection for rural Oklahoma towns.

“Those readers are our heartbeat... we need them to read, so it's definitely a two-way street,” he said.

Which is why Rusty made his deadline this week, despite a setback that may have stopped many others. He and his team continued to do what they always do, small staff and all.

They fired up the presses.

“I thought they might come out a day late, but that never was an option as far as he was concerned,” Larry said, bragging on his son.

Rusty has temporarily moved the operation to another newspaper building he owns in the next town over, Hominy, which also has been Cleveland's high school football rival since 1922.

“My first posting was on Facebook, 'We'll try not to use purple ink.' A silly joke, but just making reference to that rivalry,” he said.

All jokes aside, and despite the roof's demise, Rusty's passion for printing papers won't ever cave.

“We're not going anywhere,” he said. “No, heavens no.”

The cost of the roof collapse still hasn't been determined and neither has the cause.

The American does have insurance, but Rusty is not sure right now how much will be covered.

His plan is to be back in the building, working again, in the next couple of weeks.