This week, The Liberty Hill Independent, through its parent company, Free State Media Group, has acquired The Liberty Hill Leader newspaper and the affiliated website, www.LibertyHillSports.com.
On Jan. 26, The Leader ceased publication and announced that it had been purchased by an anonymous buyer.
In announcing the acquisition this week, Co-owner Shelly Wilkison, who also serves as Publisher/Managing Editor, said plans for The Leader will be revealed in the coming months.
“This consolidation of our interests reflects that our business model is strong, we are standing on excellent financial footing and poised to provide even better news and advertising to the greater Liberty Hill community,” she said.
Shelly, who is a business partner with her husband, Charley Wilkison, described the purchase of the competitor newspaper as part of a forward army business approach.
“We began in 2008 with a local news website aimed at creating competition with professional excellence in reporting as our goal. At the time, Radio Free Liberty Hill was competing with both The Independent and The Leader,” she said.
After purchasing the The Independent in 2010, the operation morphed from a local homespun publication into a professional news organization competing for news, readers and advertisers. The Independent has published weekly since 1987, making it the longest running newspaper in Liberty Hill’s history.
“We bought a bankrupt newspaper that bartered for advertising and slowly turned it into an award-winning publication. But it was years before we were able to evolve into a sound for-profit business,” she said.
The Independent had to prove it was for real, a legitimate news organization without a political or personal axe to grind.
In 2011, The Independent won its first professional journalism awards from the Texas Press Association.
“When readers began to experience professional journalism they didn’t want to go back,” said Wilkison, “and our no-pressure advertising strategy has paid dividends.”
She admits that being able to invest all the revenue back into the business has made a difference. Wilkison, who earned a degree in Journalism from Baylor University and has years of experience at major daily and smaller weekly newspapers in Texas, has been able to bring on professional staff who have moved the newspaper to a new dimension.
In 2015, the newspaper added a full-color magazine to its portfolio of special publications. Liberty Hill Living will publish its third edition in June.
In 2016, The Independent hosted the first Liberty Hill Independence Day Spectacular bringing thousands to City Park to enjoy a free evening of fireworks, family activities, live music and food. The newspaper will continue to host the annual event in partnership with its advertisers.
The Wilkisons, residents of Liberty Hill since 1999, have used proceeds from advertising sales through the years to invest heavily in the community. Significant advertising space is donated annually to local non-profit organizations, and toward the promotion of special events that benefit the community.
As to the future of The Leader, Wilkison prefers to hold onto her cards.
“We’re grateful to the people of Liberty Hill. We are deeply committed to bringing them news of our community in a truthful, fair and balanced way. We see our advertisers as business partners, and we work hard to help them be successful and reach more customers,” she said.
Free State Media Group will make a public announcement in the coming months regarding the direction The Leader will take. In the meantime, The Leader’s subscribers who were not already receiving The Independent by mail will receive it in the mail soon.
Wilkison said the acquisition of The Leader did not include the K-MAC Sports website of previous owner Chuck Licata, who is retained by Liberty Hill All Sports Booster Club to broadcast some Liberty Hill High School sporting events.