The Piedmont Virginian ended its six-year existence as a weekly newspaper with today's editions, a victim of financial failure and philosophical success.
The Virginian, which made its reputation and perhaps sealed its own fatc with its dedication to protecting the environment and way of life of Virginia's lush horse country, will continue publication as a monthly, shifting toward a magazine approach.
The paper was started in an era in which growth and development were generally considered to be the best thing that could happen to a rural community.
Today the cost of growth is increasingly questioned. Therefore, believing that the public is alert to the land use issues for which it crusaded, the paper's financial backers decided they were no longer willing to support ist losses.
The Virginian, founded in 1971, has been attacked as biased in its view-point and as a tool of the wealthy men who created it. "Snobbish, good ridance," said one Loundoun County official upon learning of its end as a weekly.
And it has been praised - even by its enemies - for its careful and extensive coverage of local and regional issues.
It began with a series on working farmers that was aimed at countering the contention that farmers would rather sell to developers than farm. It closes with a story on the benefits to farmers of a new tax law that provides a break for agriculture.
The Virginian was started by a group of Fauquier County men who felt their county paper, the Democrat, was too much of a booster of real estate speculators, said F. Prentice Porter, one of the backers. "To protect the county from that attitude we started this paper," Porter said.
"We had hoped the paper would get in the black but we didn't start it as a business project," said George L. Orhstrom, a New York businessman with a Fauquier farm. "We felt a voice had to be heard on environmental and conservation matters."
The Fauquier group hired Ray E. Dilley, who was editing the Manassas Journal-Messenger, as editor and general manager of their paper. Dilley, who at 48 has 29 years in the news business, said, "The impact of I-95 and I-66 was the burning issue in Prince William County. That attracted the attention of people in Fauquier."
The Virginian started with the idea that it could not compete head on with the established paper in each county, Dilley said. Instead, the Virginian would cover Fauquier, Loudoun and "a little bit of Prince William as a horrible example," said Dilley.
"We wanted to break even. Then we got to the point where we wanted to keep the deficit within manageable limits. But we never topped 5,000 circulation," he said.
"I don't think there is any way you can establish in a rural community and compete with an established paper. We have a staff of about 12 or 14 people and a payroll of $100,000 or so. Even for a small operation (the costs) get pretty big," Dilley said.
Dale D. Hogoboom, a retired Army colonel who was hired in 1972 as president of the Fauquier Publishing Corporation, the paper's owner, said, "We were never able to get any of the large advertisers. They are looking for a town store and a town newspaper and we were covering a larger area."
"The investors told me not to worry about losing money when I came. We made a strenous effort to get in the black but unless you have a competitor that is not doing a decent job you just don't have a chance.Those old habits die hard," Hogoboom said.
One of the competitors is the Loudoun Times Mirror with a circulation of about 14,000. Its editor is James Rirchfield, who retired from The Washington Star and worked for a year at the Virginian before moving to the Times-Mirror.
"Dilley was always interested in open space and preservation and his paper was avidly read by its supporters. It was in many respects a very good paper. Ray has a good sense of humor and people enjoyed working there," Birchfield said, "But as far as we were concerned they never even made a pinprick in our advertising."
The Fauquier Democrat, with a circulation of 9,800 was the other direct competitor, and John Toler, its general manager, said, "They had a very aggressive sales staff at first but when one of our advertisers went with them it was after they had gone with us, too. They might have cut in some but they caused no decrease in our advertising."
The Democrat was as important to the end of the Virginian as a weekly as it was in its creation.
The Deomocrat had been bought by Mrs. Helmi E. Carr, a Leesburg devleoper, in 1971 from the estate of Hubert Phipps, and the Virginian's angels did not like her views on growth.
But in 1974, the Democrat was bought by Arthur W. Arundel who already owned the Loudoun paper and the Reston paper.
"Arundel and I have been friends since we were children," said Ohrstrom, the New York businessman.
John Warner, unannounced Republican candidate for the Senate, husband of Elizabeth Taylor and financial supporter of the Virginian, said, "In my judgment, the Democrat is in good safe keeping and there is probably less urgency for the Virginian. I'm quite comfortable with the Democrat."
Sources familiar with the Virginian estimated its losses at about $80,000 a year, though Dilley said that sounded high. The paper was set up under a corporate status that allows the stock holders to write the losses off their personal income tax. "That helped," said Porter, "but the money is still gone."
The decision was made to shift to monthly publication to "cut the losses," Hogoboom said.