This week we are featuring Amy Voss-DeVito, co-owner, editor and publisher of the Mountain Courier–a monthly publication in Shenandoah County.
Amy talks about how her and her husband, Jeff DeVito, came to own the paper, what it’s like keeping a full-time job outside of being a newspaper publisher, the challenges and benefits of running a paper with your significant other and a lot more.
To start, can you please introduce yourself and tell us a little about what you do, where you do it, what you did before that and where you’re from?
I’m a native of northern Virginia, from what people seem to just broadly call “NOVA” now. My husband Jeff, son Nick and I all moved to Woodstock, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley in 2005. It was after our move there when I first learned about this little, well-loved community newspaper, The Mountain Courier. But Jeff and I never stopped working in Fairfax County; we’re still long distance hardcore commuters logging about three hours on the road each work day.
How did you come to own the Mountain Courier? What’s it like running a paper and having another job?
I’d gotten a degree in English back in the nineties and started out as a reporter but settled into a job working for Fairfax County Family Services because it offered job benefits we needed to start a family. But I missed writing for a paper and jumped at the chance to start working with Boston, the paper’s publisher at the time. Peggy and the Courier staff were very welcoming and let me write about all kinds of topics that were just fun—about our neighborhood’s ongoing battle with a crazy flock of vultures, about our tradition of roadside chicken stands, lots of local color. As for having a County job and run a paper at the same time? It is exhausting! I do look forward to retirement.
When did you and your husband buy the Courier and what made you two want to purchase it? It sounds like a real labor of love.
Jeff and I purchased the Mountain Courier in August 2016. Bernie had long since passed away by then and Peggy really felt the need for some independence and travel. But she was committing to make sure the paper continued and we are grateful for that! We certainly never dreamed we’d own a newspaper–it was never on our radar. But you just can’t pass up a chance to make a difference like this. The freedom to explore all kinds of local stories–the quirky ones are my favorites–is very empowering. Not everyone gets a chance to serve their community in a very real, tangible way. Our aim is to keep the Courier what is always has been–a positive, nonpolitical monthly written by some very talented folks. Several of our writers have retired from careers with other newspapers (The Washington Star and the Washington Post) and I count myself very lucky to work with them.
You talk about making a difference in your community through the Courier, how do you think community papers are able to do that and become indispensable pieces of the towns they cover?
It is hard to overestimate the importance of a community newspaper to a small rural county. We are a close-knit place; readers know the Courier is where they can find information important to them. Of course, advertising rates play an important part–we offer very affordable rates, especially for nonprofits–because that is an essential way the Courier can give back to our community.
But, really, nothing replaces the tradition of a local paper. Although the paper is online at our Facebook page, for twenty-five years now folks have known when to stroll over to the local coffee shop and pick up the latest issue. Readers go to Town Hall to pay their water bills in person just so they can pick up their monthly copy. The Mountain Courier is just as much a part of our local culture as the County fair and Christmas parades.
“Nothing replaces the tradition of a local paper.”
Can you walk us through what it’s like to put together a typical issue of the Courier for you and Jeff?
We are a monthly, so the first half of the month is mostly taken up with ads and the second half is about editorial. Lynne Crumpacker, our graphics designer, collects and creates ads for us (our official ad deadline is the 15th). Editorial copy is due to me by the 20th and is typically reviewed by myself, Joan Anderson (our associate editor), or Suzanne Montgomery, our copy editor. I style the final copy in InDesign and forward it to Lynne, who will layout the paper and have it ready for first proofing around the 27th of the month. After second proofing corrections are made, the files are locked in and sent to the Free Press for printing the following day. Needless to say, the last week of the month is very hectic for us!
What is the best part and worst part about running the Courier as a married couple?
The best part about running a paper with your spouse is being able to get an answer to your questions immediately! I handle editorial; Jeff handles billing; we work within earshot of each other and we’re always calling back and forth across the hallway that separates our offices.
The downside is remembering to stop talking shop when it is time to relax. It is very tempting to bring up something that might have gotten forgotten–“did you bill so-and-so? Did you call somebody back?”–while your spouse is in his pajamas watching the news. At some point you just have to write yourself a note on a sticky and let it go.
Since you run the editorial side of things at the Courier, what is one of your favorite pieces you’ve been a part of since taking the reins and why does this certain piece stick out in your memory?
One of my favorite stories ran last September and has a new, interesting twist. Our associate editor Joan Anderson wrote “Seeking Freedom & the American Dream,” a feature about Adrian Ramirez, young Cuban refugee professionally trained as an opera singer in his native country. Because opportunities there were so limited, Adrian and his sister endured a dangerous 3,000 mile pilgrimage through South American to get to the United States where he eventually found his way to Harrisonburg, Va. He was working at a chicken plant when a music professor at James Madison University recognized his talent and helped jumpstart Adrian’s American career. Adrian has done so well that just this June he actually competed on The Four, a national singer’s competition aired the Fox Channel. This story was deliberately chosen to run on the heels of last summer’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville because all of us here at the Mountain Courier felt it was an especially important time to highlight community support and inclusion of all people.
Where do you and Jeff hope to see the Courier in the next few years?
Jeff and I look forward to watching the Courier continue to grow as we press on with our mission of positive community journalism.