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Hur Herald faces hard times

HUR, W.Va. -- Bob Weaver is worried.

"We don't have a good business plan," concedes Weaver, 72, who comprises exactly one half of the writing, editing, publishing, marketing and advertising staff for the Hur Herald online newspaper.

"If we had a business plan we'd probably quit tomorrow."

Yet, for almost 17 years, Bob Weaver and wife Dianne have kept the self-proclaimed "questionable publication from West Virginia" running. Over the years, the Hur Herald has become popular - even notorious - both locally and abroad for its homey mix of news, colorful local history columns, sometimes bellicose coverage of the Calhoun County crime beat and occasionally flowery prose espousing everything from growing up in "Sunny Cal" to old-timers' advice on how to grind up walnut shells and mix them with butter as a substitute for meat.

"It hit me so hard it jarred the berries off my grandma's hat," informs one column written by Dianne on local sayings she's picked up over the years.

"We started doing the Hur Herald just as a joke," Bob says.

After moving back to his childhood homeplace in the mid-1990s, Bob and Dianne started hanging out with their neighbors in the small community of Hur, not far as the crow flies from Grantsville. "We had fanciful elections electing the mayor of Hur," Bob explains. "I started the Hur Herald to cover our community."

Initially, the Hur Herald was printed on 8 1/2-by-11-inch sheets of paper stapled together. In 1999, Bob and Dianne started publishing the paper online, where for some reason it became noticed by people in Calhoun and neighboring counties. Soon, people all over the country were following the Herald.

"It started out as a nice country home page, and we had a lot of historic pictures," says Dianne, Bob's wife of 38 years. Later, they started covering real news to make up for a lack of zeal on the part of the local weekly newspaper.

Bob says the Hur Herald is seen by 2.2 million people a year. "I don't know why," he says.

When pressed, however, it becomes apparent that maybe he really does know.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Bob says he got an email photograph of the Twin Towers falling down, sent by a man who photographed the scene from his office in New Jersey. "I wondered why he would send this to me," Bob recalls.

"He said, 'I read the Hur Herald every morning,'" Bob remembers. "He said, 'I read it because it makes me feel good. It signifies a simpler time.'"

There remains a down-home, tongue-in-cheek flavor to the publication, but Bob and Dianne's love of journalism and dedication to the craft are genuine.

"I came from a family of readers," says Dianne. "I remember in Spencer High School, I couldn't wait to get into the library."

There, she would devour the newspapers hanging on wooden rods. Dianne was disappointed when the weekend came, because she couldn't get into the library to look at the papers.

In 1969, fresh out of school, she heard about an opening at the local newspaper. With absolutely no experience or training, and armed with nothing but a love of newspapers, Dianne badgered the editors until they let her try her hand at journalism.

Starting in the paste-up room, she quickly mastered any task they gave her. "I must have had a talent for it, because I caught on real quick," she remembers.

Dianne got an offer for a full-time journalism job, but it would have meant leaving Spencer. So she went to work at O.J. Morrison's department store instead.

"In high school I got enthralled with the school newspaper," Bob remembers. He worked for Grantsville's weekly newspaper in high school in the late 1950s, went to Marietta, Ohio, to work in radio and came back to Spencer in the early 1960s to help start what is now radio station WVRC.

Bob soon discovered the job didn't pay enough to afford both a car and a sleeping room. He gave up the sleeping room and started sleeping in his car.

"I went to work at a funeral home because I'd starve to death doing newspapers and radio," he says.

The next few decades were spent at funeral homes in Spencer and Weston, then a stint running alcohol abuse programs in West Virginia and Ohio.

Bob's return to Calhoun County coincided with the creation of the Hur Herald and his election to the Calhoun County Commission. He is now in his third term.

Bob concedes that reporting on government while being part of the government can be a challenge.

"I suppose it can be a conflict of interest at times," he says. Having to file a Freedom of Information Act request against the county clerk was a little awkward, he admits.

Bob says the future of the Hur Herald is in doubt. Recent issues include increasingly passionate appeals for donations to help keep the online paper running.

"We run it on a shoestring," he says, adding that it costs about $20,000 a year to run the publication. "It's always a struggle."

Bob says easy access to the Internet has led people to expect information for free. "I think it's a dilemma that goes on everywhere in the USA," he says. Bob wonders if there will still be newspapers in a few years.

"As someone who loves newspapers, magazines and print publications, I'm really concerned about their future," he says.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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