By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large
KYLE – Vandals broke into the offices of Hays County’s most circulated weekly newspaper early Monday morning, making off with about $20,000 of computer equipment.
The Hays Free Press will publish a newspaper this week, as usual, though Editor Beth Nelson acknowledged that the task will be difficult. Thieves made off with the newspaper’s production computer and a server, as well as photography and telephone equipment.
“For (the burglars) to pick here is kind of strange, because we’re in and out of here at all hours of the day and night,” Nelson said.
As it happened, someone was at The Free Press right around the time of this morning’s burglary. Publisher Bob Barton, who has operated the newspaper for more than 50 years, was in the office Sunday night approaching midnight when the lights went off.
Nelson said Barton figured something went wrong with the power, so he went home, exiting through the front door to Center Street. Moments later, apparently, thieves broke into the building from the rear alley.
“Basically, somebody kicked in the back door,” said Captain Pedro Hernandez of the Kyle Police Department (KPD).
Hernandez said the matter remains under investigation as the KPD works towards developing leads. Hernandez declined to speculate about a motive.
Thieves also cut the newspaper’s electric, cable and telephone lines. The Free Press said it lost more than $20,000 in property, including a business checkbook, as their office was ransacked.
Nelson said Production Manager David White arrived Monday morning and immediately suspected something wrong. When he reached his desk in the back of the office, he was sure of it. His production computer and server were gone.
Though The Free Press backs up its information, Nelson said, it remains that the newspaper is trying to recover and piece together advertising files.
Nelson asked that parents who took out advertising for their graduating high school seniors and sent the information by email call the newspaper (268-7862).
Fortunately, Nelson said, much of the news for this week’s edition concerns last Saturday night’s local election, for which many of the accounts had yet to be entered into the newspaper’s computers as of Sunday night.
The Free Press is the largest weekly newspaper in Hays County, claiming a circulation of 6,500.
The Free Press has published continuously, in one form or other, since 1903, when it was founded as The Kyle News. In 1955, Barton bought The Kyle News with his friend from Buda High School’s Class of 1947, Moe Johnson. Barton and Johnson changed the newspaper’s name to The Hays County Citizen in 1956. As Barton and Johnson took turns experimenting with life, one of the two always ran the newspaper.
By the late 1950s, Johnson settled into a career in public education, first as a legendary basketball coach who took Kyle High School to the state tournament five times in six years, then as the Hays CISD’s founding superintendent in 1968.
Barton stuck with The Citizen, growing it into a force that almost ran The San Marcos Daily Record out of business by the 1970s. In 1978, though, a new ownership group with The Daily Record bought out Barton, who agreed to not start a competing publication in San Marcos.
Instead, Barton bought the Austin Sun, the predecessor to the Austin Chronicle as the capital city’s counter-cultural beacon. Barton soon moved the newspaper to south Travis County, oriented it to general interest readership and renamed it “The Onion Creek Free Press.” But that first issue of the re-named paper contained the residue of the Austin Sun. It’s only paid advertisement was a notice for an upcoming Jerry Jeff Walker show.
In 1982, Barton moved the newspaper into Buda and re-named it “The Free Press.” At first, the newspaper covered Manchaca, Buda and Dripping Springs, but it eventually shifted focus to Buda and Kyle with the Hays CISD’s contraction to those towns when Wimberley defected in 1986.
In 2006, after years of internal debate about associating the newspaper with any particular town or location, the newspaper changed its name to the Hays Free Press.
Disclosure: Bill Peterson was the Editor of The Free Press from 2001 to 2005.Email | Print