Dick Williams’ Dunwoody Crier gets sold to Appen Media Group

Dick Williams given a thank-you poster from the Fox 5 "Georgia Gang" staff.

Dick Williams given a thank-you poster from the Fox 5 "Georgia Gang" staff.

Originally posted Wednesday April 24, 2019 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Dick Williams has printed his final Dunwoody Crier after 23 years of owning the local weekly newspaper but he received a lifeline: Appen Media Group has purchased the paper and will continue the publication to 18,000 households.

Terms were not announced.

Appen is the publisher of the Alpharetta-Roswell Herald, Johns Creek Herald, Forsyth Herald, Milton Herald and Northside Woman.

"The Crier will continue to serve Dunwoody under the leadership of longtime General Manager Jim Hart and with the additional resources of AMG and the Herald Newspapers," Williams said in a press release. "Our veteran reporters will continue their work."

In a text Thursday, Williams said the move was sad because he will lose editorial control. He said based on his last issue, he had clearly had plenty of remaining goodwill, but “you can’t monetize that.” He said the Appen owners “will be using all of our freelancers and they seem happy.”

Williams, in an interview before the purchase happened, said the same problems impacting other newspapers plagued him: fewer advertisers, lower revenue and a commensurate inability to fully cover the news.

He said the paper tends to get by from January to May but summer months are notoriously slow. He said he looked at the trends and wasn’t sure if he make it through the year and keep his payroll afloat. Williams himself said he stopped paying himself a year ago and has invested his own savings to keep the paper open in recent years.

“I am not a businessman,” Williams said. “I am a newspaper man... We’ve been living off the land for several years and it was driving me crazy.”

To leave the paper is “painful to me,” he added.

The 75-year-old veteran journalist had also ended his nearly four-decade run as host of "The Georgia Gang" just last month for Fox 5, citing health reasons.

He said going back decades, he wanted to own a local community paper. In 1996, when he found out the Dunwoody Crier was available, he purchased it via a down payment and a six-year loan, which totaled around $300,000. Originally a shopper packed mostly with press releases, Williams turned it into a legitimate newspaper.

“I really felt the area  of Dunwoody, Brookhaven and Sandy Springs deserved a good newspaper,” he said. “I felt DeKalb wasn’t being well covered.”

Though he was a conservative columnist for the Atlanta Journal, he said he didn’t believe he turned the paper into a political mouthpiece. Instead, he hired reporters (mostly freelancers) to cover the bread and butter of community news, from high school sports to school plays to new businesses to zoning news. (He did, for a brief time, have to grapple with an obvious conflict of interest: wife Rebecca Chase Williams was mayor of Brookhaven from 2015 to 2016.)

Williams said his paper’s legitimacy as a genuine news source for the area came when a tornado hit Dunwoody in 1998. It damaged or obliterated 3,000 homes and a huge swath of neighborhoods were closed off to car traffic for a month. His reporters were able to cover the story thoroughly for months on end.

Since then, he spent a lot of time covering the cityhood movement and his paper supported the creation of a separate city of Dunwoody, as well as Brookhaven and Peachtree Corners. At the paper’s peak, it had eight full-time employees along with several solid freelancers.

“In the early 2000s, I put both girls through college, full pay,” he said. “We incurred profits.” He said the paper’s last profitable year was 2007, about the time other papers began suffering.

"Dick made it special," said one of his most reliable writers Mickey Goodman. "I cold called about writing a column on Dunwoody's talented artists. He said 'yes' on the spot and treated me like a seasoned journalist, even though I wasn't. Dick welcomed all ideas and gave me (and other writers) free reign to cover the tornado... He kept the presses running and produced almost daily updates to keep residents informed about progress being made to clean up the mess, restore power, open roads, etc. Dick was (and is) a journalist's journalist always willing to nurture writers."