CANADIAN, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – According to a notice on social media, the March 2, 2023 edition of The Canadian Record was the last before the suspension of its publication.
Established in 1893, as noted on the Portal to Texas History, The Canadian Record has stood as the longest-lasting of seven newspapers published in the community, including:
- The Free Press (1887-1888)
- The Crescent (1888-1893)
- The Canadian Record (1893-2023)
- The Enterprise (1891-1912)
- The Advertiser, later the Hemphill County News (1938-1971)
- The Sand Barr (1933-1949)
- The Monday Morning News (1916)
As detailed in a 2022 report by the Texas Tribune, the paper spent more than half its life under the editorial oversight of one local family, after Ben and Nancy Ezzell became co-editors and publishers in 1948. Described by the Texas Newspaper Foundation in his Hall of Fame entry as having been the recipient of a concussion during a 1955 fight with a mayoral candidate in response to an editorial and also the 1968 title of Canadian Man of the Year, Ezzell spent his decades-long career publishing “no-nonsense” editorials and with unflinching journalistic convictions.
Nancy Ezzell was also well-known for her integrity and community journalism, as noted in her published obituary, with a long list of awards and honors and community leadership positions, such as acting as a founding member of Canadian’s River Valley Pioneer Museum and member and president of both the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Panhandle Press Association, among others. She continued to write her column, the “Petticoat Patter,” for over 55 years.
The most recent editor and owner, Laurie Ezzell Brown, took over the paper in January 1993 after the death of her father, Ben, and acted as co-editor with her mother, Nancy, until Nancy’s death in 2013. In the subsequent 30 years, Brown oversaw the weekly printed and online publishing of the Record and, as seen in the Record itself as well as its social media pages, attended innumerable local board meetings, reported from the scenes of fires and storms, and wrote on a number of controversial topics and national issues from the perspective of their local impact.
Brown further led the paper through the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and expressed her thanks in her December 2021 “Field Notes” letter to friends and partners Cathy Ricketts and Mary Smithee, the Record’s News Editor and Business Manager, respectively. At the time, she also initially announced her intention to turn the paper over to new hands.
“After thirty years at the editor’s desk, following in my father’s very daunting footsteps, I know only that I have done the best I could to honor his legacy. I also believe it is time—perhaps past time—to turn this work over to another generation,” Brown wrote at the time, “In the next few months, I hope that those who understand the important role this newspaper has played in this community’s history—and should continue to play in its future—will help us find someone equally cognizant of The Record’s inherent value, and eager to write its next few chapters.”
Brown, reaching 70, noted to the Texas Tribune in 2022 that she was ready to retire, though was determined to keep the paper running due to her belief in the importance of the work and her fear for the future of Canadian without a community newspaper. Brown continued her search for a replacement through 2022 and posted a notice of the Record being put up for sale in July 2022, with an expressed willingness to train and assist new owners to “ensure a good transition.”
However, in spite of the dedication of its publishers and the long-running success, the Record did not shift to rest upon a new set of shoulders. In the end, the March 2, 2023 issue of the Record was announced as the first issue of the month and the final edition of the paper’s long history.
“This is a very hard day for The Wrecking Crew,” noted the final edition’s announcement post, “We love you all.”
While the Record staff noted on social media that the intention has remained to continue posting important news, public alerts, public meeting information, obituaries, and further on the paper’s main Facebook page, the publication of the paper has been suspended.
“We are suspending publication of the newspaper, but cannot walk away altogether from our commitment to this community we love,” wrote the Record staff in a Facebook comment, “We also will continue looking for a successor who will continue to serve this community. Please help us find one.”
The closure of the Canadian Record is yet another addition to the growing area of the United States that exists in “news deserts,” according to Medill’s Local News Initiative at Northwestern University. Noted by the initiative’s researchers, the country has been on track to lose a third of its local newspapers by 2025, with most communities that lose a newspaper not getting a digital or a print replacement. As of 2022, the vast majority of counties in the Texas Panhandle only had access to one or two local newspapers – with the ending of the Record, Hemphill County’s average will sink down to zero alongside Hartley County, Collingsworth County, and Hall County.
The closure of the Canadian Record not only leaves the future of local news publication in the community unclear, but also the continuation of one of the region’s most infamous stories: The case of Canadian teenager Thomas Brown, and the latest connected lawsuit.
Thomas Brown, as noted in previous reporting on MyHighPlains.com, went missing in 2016, with his remains found in 2019. Since 2016, Thomas Brown’s disappearance and subsequent cold case was the subject of a joint investigation with state and federal officials, the creation of the Texas Attorney General’s Cold Case and Missing Persons Unit, at least one podcast, and ongoing updates from private investigators that conflicted with information released by officials.
However, in February 2023, family members of Thomas Brown including his mother, stepfather, and brother, filed a defamation lawsuit in Lubbock County against multiple community members and companies. Among the defendants listed in the suit were Laurie Ezzell Brown, both individually and as the editor of the Canadian Record, and Canadian Record, Inc.
As noted in previous reports, the lawsuit summary alleged that the defendants engaged in a prolonged, ongoing civil conspiracy to commit libel and defamation against the estate of Thomas Brown, Penny Meek, Chris Meek, and Tucker Brown. It further claims that each defendant, individually and collectively, caused the plaintiffs actual damages, in part by allegedly publishing information supporting the idea that the plaintiffs were involved in Thomas Brown’s disappearance and/or death. As of the publication’s suspension, it was unclear how the paper’s doors closing could impact the proceedings of the lawsuit.
Update (March 9, 9:45 a.m.):
According to an update on the Canadian Record’s social media, the newspaper established a legal defense fund for the lawsuit related to the Thomas Brown case. The fund is intended to support Laurie Ezzell Brown, individually and as the owner and editor of the paper, both of which are listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
“We have covered the case of Thomas Brown’s disappearance and death for over six years now, and are confident in the work we have done as both editors and reporters on this very difficult story,” Brown said in the post. “We intend to fight this lawsuit, to defend our First Amendment freedoms of speech and of the press, and to continue to report the news with neither fear nor favor, as our readers know we have always done.”
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