Meet Mr. William D. Smothers:
Founder & Publisher of Speakin’ Out News
By William Smothers’ rough calculations, he’s overseen the publication of more than 1872 issues of Speakin’ Out News, the weekly newspaper he started 36 years ago. Still, he hasn’t grown tired of the routine of putting out a newspaper week after week. The work is still exciting, still a challenge for him.
“Every day I wake up with enthusiasm to come to work. It hasn’t gotten dim at all over the years,” said 66-year-old Smothers, about an hour before the Smothers copy and ad deadline for this week’s edition.
Smothers has experienced dramatic changes in his own publication and the industry as a whole. He first launched a general interest monthly magazine, Speakin’ Out Magazine, in September 1980. He switched formats to a bimonthly, then weekly newspaper with Speakin’ Out News which was geared to African Americans.
He saw the layout of the paper go fully computerized, with the printer in Pulaski, TN., downloading pages from the newspaper’s Website. And Smothers, the founder, sole owner, editor and publisher, has moved his publication from the kitchen table of his home in Decatur to an office in that city, to a building on Meridian Street in Huntsville, to Wholesale Avenue, to now its permanent location in Huntsville on Oakwood Avenue.
Smothers came up with about $800 to start his magazine, “Just enough to get the first printing done”, he said. There were no payroll costs, though. “I was the writer, the photographer, the layout person,” he said. Smothers at first kept his job as a special education teacher with the Morgan County school system. During his breaks, he was on the telephone, calling advertisers or setting up interviews. He stopped on the way to his office to sell ads or conduct an interview. Then he checked his mail and caught up on other work before heading home to do lesson plans for his classes the next day. “I wanted to fill a void in the African American community because, at that time, there was an absence of people of color being covered except of an entertainment or sports nature,” Smothers said. Smothers didn’t fret about his chaotic schedule. “You don’t worry about the hours, you worry about attaining your goals,” he said.
The most difficult part of getting started was selling ads, Smothers said. “I would work an entire shopping center, an entire mall to sell ads. “It teaches you how to deal with people, how to communicate with people.”
Establishing his publication cut into time he could spend with his family. At the time, Smothers and his former wife, educator, and Jackson native, Emma Brown-White, had two young daughters, ages 7 and 2. “I wasn’t able to contribute quality time to them, but I was trying to build something for the future,” he said. Smothers finally had to choose whether to continue in the education field and work with his publication part-time or make his publishing a fulltime effort. “To grow at all, you have to be totally committed,” he said.
When Smothers handed in his resignation in 1985, the Morgan County school superintendent at the time told Smothers he could return whenever he liked. Now Smothers, whose newspaper has grown from a circulation of 1,000 to a weekly circulation today of 25,757, is able to share the responsibility with a staff of four full-time employees and 5 part-time employees.
He is the father of four beautiful daughters. His oldest daughter, Jemeana Smothers-Roberson who is the associate publisher and oversees the graphics and website areas; his second daughter, Knegleshia Smothers-Cobb who serves as the chief financial officer; Terra Smothers-Carter, who is staff writer/editor and his youngest daughter, Canderiah Smothers, who manages the daily operations at Speakin’ Out News’ office. He is married to Deloris Smothers, Computer Information System (CIS) and office system technology director at Drake State Technical College.
Smothers is also a proud grandfather of eight, Zoie, Darrion, Morgyn, Zyan, Madisyn, Kyndall, Jabin, and Zeah. Smothers is a proud graduate of Jackson State University and is involved with numerous community organizations.
Smothers realized that he had found a niche when more and more people asked the newspaper to cover their events. “Some of these people had never had coverage of their events before,” he said. “It’s more than a newspaper, it’s about the community.”
As Speakin’ Out News enters its 36th year, Smothers thanks God for his longevity. “By God’s grace, Speakin’ Out News had withstood the test of time. Our doors have not closed, like so many other larger publications. We have not been bought out by big business, nor do we solely print digital. Speakin’ Out News consistently prints every Wednesday, making history every week as the longest running African-American newspaper in North Alabama”.