Monday, September 22, 2003
Nortonville -- Mike Caddell, publisher of the Fightin' Cock Flyer, is a self-described hell-raiser - a practitioner, he says, of "shotgun journalism."
Put another way: He makes people angry.
In fact, Caddell admits the Flyer - a weekly "pamphlet" printed on one sheet of 11x13 paper - doesn't look or sound much like mainstream journalism. Headlines have likened the mayor to a "criminal gang leader" and suggested City Council members were "scared cattle."
"I interweave opinion with news, based on fact," Caddell said. "I walk a delicate path between libel and the facts, there's no doubt about that."
The mayor, not surprisingly, is no fan.
"He's a nut," Mayor Herman Ackmann said of Caddell. "Why he thinks he's a journalist, I'll never know."
But Caddell does have supporters.
"Basically, it's trying to get people to think what the hell's going on in the community, just presenting questions to get people to think," said Jim Noll, a merchant who buys advertising in the Flyer. "There's some of us who think he's on the right track, maybe."
Noll added: "Every once in a while he goes off the deep end."
'Friendly little town'
Caddell, a private detective, and his wife, Kris, moved four years ago to a farmhouse south of Nortonville, a town of 620 people in northern Jefferson County.
It was just this year, Caddell said, that he persuaded his wife to do her grocery shopping here in town instead of in Lawrence or Oskaloosa.
She hadn't been doing so very long before Nortonville's grocery store closed. The store owner, Clifford Morgan, accused the city government of reneging on promises to help his business and sued.
At the same time, city officials started issuing citations to residents with unsightly lawns - weeds and old pickup trucks were earning property owners costly tickets.
"This used to be a friendly little town; nobody'd bother anybody," Noll said. "Now there's an uproar, the last two years."
There wasn't a local paper to chronicle the uproar, though. All the local news coverage was provided by weekly newspapers in Oskaloosa and Valley Falls, both in the southern part of the county.
So Caddell resolved to fill the void.
"I decided the best thing that was needed was a good muckraking journal in a part of Jefferson County that hadn't had a newspaper - a good country weekly - for 40 years," he said.
The first issue of the Fightin' Cock Flyer came out in June, with a promise that it would be "fanning the flames of dissent in northeast Kansas."
The first issue raised a series of questions, mostly directed at Ackmann - though the mayor's name was misspelled in the article. The little pamphlet wondered whether Ackmann received "mental telepathic messages from Hitler's bunker" on a trip to Germany, and if Ackmann was part of an "international conspiracy of economic terrorists trying to destroy Nortonville."
"The local people were not used to a journalist writing his interview questions and printing them out all over the place," Caddell said.
He said, however, that some merchants were pleased. The first issue had no advertising. That quickly changed.
"It was something that all of them, at one time or another, wanted to ask city government," Caddell said.
Ackmann was not amused.
"He tried calling me up for an interview," Ackmann said of Caddell. "I told him he wasn't interested in the truth if he didn't call me before he ran those questions."
And Ackmann wasn't pleased with language used in the Flyer. Caddell railed against "dumbass shoppers," among other rough turns of phrase.
"The first issue or two that came out was so dirty, I went down to the county attorney and left a copy," Ackmann said. "I guess there's nothing legal you can do about it."
The number of readers has grown, Caddell said. He said circulation is 350, with e-mailed copies to another 150 readers. He distributes the Flyer for free.
Take a walk in downtown Nortonville, however, and it's hard to find out what people think. Half the buildings in the one-block district are empty; occupants in the rest are reluctant to talk.
"There's a few people in town who don't like the paper," Noll said. "I've got regulars who come in and pick up the paper. They like the way he thinks."
Ackmann calls the Flyer a "scandal" and "pitiful." Caddell, Ackmann says, is a "screwball."
"He just prints everything he can get his hands on," Ackmann said of Caddell. "I told him if he couldn't find one good thing to say about the city, don't print anything."
Caddell takes a different view.
"I consider the Flyer the best example of journalism as practiced at the time of the American Revolution and the country weeklies of the 19th century," he said. "It's like those papers, one large sheet crammed with words, no photos, and very few advertisements, if any."
He shrugs off the criticism as part of journalism.
"Some people consider this vigilante journalism," he said.
"The town's not used to free press. That's all there is to it."
In the early 1990s, Caddell was editor and publisher of the Frankfort Index, a small weekly in a community north of Fort Riley. That paper so enraged some community members that a rival weekly newspaper was started to compete against him.