The Picayune then and now celebrates the community

EDITOR DANIEL CLIFTON

When Lee Alvey and her late husband, Dan Alvey, started The Picayune about 28 years ago, they weren’t out to change the world. They just wanted to help create a closer-knit Highland Lakes community. They envisioned The Picayune, even in its infancy, as a way to connect the community and the people.

“The beauty of The Picayune was it could get people out of their homes and involved in things going on in the Highland Lakes,” Lee Alvey said.

One of the first indications of the power of The Picayune was the annual Round Mountain Homecoming, held not long after the Alveys began publishing the paper. In the years prior, the homecoming regularly drew maybe 50 or so people, Lee Alvey said.

When The Picayune ran an article promoting the event, the turnout more than doubled. The organizers were elated with the impact the story had on attendance. One article in a free small newspaper brought the community together.

“I think that showed us just how important a community newspaper like The Picayune was and could be,” Alvey said.

The Jan. 30 edition of The Picayune is the last weekly version. But it’s far from the last The Picayune. Instead, starting in February, The Picayune Magazine will arrive each month in mailboxes across the Highland Lakes. It will maintain the tradition of celebrating the Highland Lakes community, particularly its people.

The magazine will include features on people, places, and a few surprises as well as highlight big events happening each month. More community-focused content such as event stories and a calendar can be found at 101HighlandLakes.com.

Looking back at the early days and the past three decades, Alvey recalled a newspaper and media company that has grown, strengthened, and become a stalwart of the Highland Lakes.

In April 1991, the young Victory Publishing Co. — now Victory Media — began mailing 17,000 copies of The Picayunes to homes across the Highland Lakes. A year later, the company switched to home delivery. About a year after the first paper hit the streets, the Alveys boosted The Picayune’s circulation to 25,000.

Part of that early success came with the help of Reges Grocery, then owned by Richard Giesecke, who committed to advertising with the young paper.

The Picayune swelled to a circulation of 35,000 in the early 2000s.

“The thing is, we still have some classified advertisers who have advertised with us from the first edition almost 30 years ago to today,” Alvey said. “There are some (advertisers) who tell us that if it wasn’t for The Picayune, they probably wouldn’t be in business.”

The Picayune proved to be just as important to its advertisers as it was to its readers.

It was created to celebrate and support the community with uplifting and sometimes eclectic articles. A story might be as off-kilter as “how much paint does it take to paint that fence,” Alvey said. It might promote a local festival or event. Or, it might celebrate a local unsung hero, such as the dads who mow the youth baseball fields all year.

Even the publication’s name has a touch of whimsy.

“‘Picayune’ is a name other papers have used,” Alvey said. “It means something like ‘small’ or ‘insignificant.’ When Dan picked the name, he knew the paper would be small in size but large in significance to the community.”

Initially, the Alveys focused on sharing The Picayune with the readers of the Highland Lakes, but in the mid- to late 1990s, they and the staff began entering the community weekly in competitions for writing, photography, advertising, and layout.

“And we began winning year after year after year,” Alvey said.

The company also expanded into other products, including The River Cities Tribune — now online at DailyTrib.com — in the spring of 1995. The company followed that two years later with the first edition of 101 Fun Things to do in the Highland Lakes magazine, which remains a popular visitors guide.

“That was Linsday (Lewis) Bickerton’s idea,” said Alvey, referring to the former associate publisher, who has since passed away. “We really have to mention her when we talk about The Picayune.”

Of course, there’s also The Picayune Area-Wide Phone Book, a go-to resource when looking for local information, phone numbers, and businesses. It also evolves as people change how they search for local businesses. And, in early 2013, the company hit the airwaves with the acquisition of KBEY 103.9 FM, leading to Radio Picayune.

In 2008, the Alveys’ daughter, Amber Alvey Weems, became Victory Media president and The Picayune publisher. The company remains family- and locally owned.

“Working alongside my dad and my mom has been a blessing,” she said. “My dad had a wonderful vision — The Picayune, a champion of the community. I intend to continue his vision and commitment to support our community.”

And that role hasn’t changed, even as the newspaper becomes The Picayune Magazine.

The magazine will continue the tradition of celebrating the Highland Lakes.

Stick around; it’s going to be a fun ride.

daniel@thepicayune.com

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