Sunday, May 22, 2022

Weir: Max Miller — a new breed of journalist

If you’ve been keeping up with significant news articles in Denton County for the past 12 years or so, a good deal of that info has come from a paper and online publication known as The Cross Timbers Gazette.

CTG, as it’s familiarly known in local circles, is owned and operated by Max Miller, a Lantana resident with a keen eye for the business of newspaper publishing. Although his early experience with media was mainly confined to radio broadcasting, it didn’t take him long to figure out how to carve out a niche in print media. As a former Executive Editor for seven years at another local paper, I now enjoy writing and filming video interviews of people in the news in North Texas. Those interviews are distributed online at CTG.

Although I write (and film) for other news outlets, I particularly enjoy contributing to the body/politic of the local area. Moreover, knowing that Max publishes good news, as well as bad, makes my small role in his online site seem worthy of attention. He’s not only made CTG one of the first links I click on each day to see the latest local news, but, his monthly print paper is abundant with interesting happenings throughout his ever-growing circulation area. Max doesn’t do much chest-thumping, although he certainly has earned his share, so I haven’t invited him to sit for an interview, until now. I think you’ll enjoy seeing and hearing from the guy who adds so much to the political and social landscape in our little corner of the world.

The following bio was recently written by Mark Miller (no relation to Max):

With a circulation of more than 46,000 and a territory base that stretches from Flower Mound west to I-35W and beyond, you might think Max Miller sits in a high rise office tower leading a media empire. Truth be told, he publishes The Cross Timbers Gazette newspaper monthly from his Lantana home just like he’s done since 2006. The only difference is the paper is much larger and the number of homes and businesses to which it is mailed has grown dramatically since he bought the publication from its long-time owner. “I’m the epitome of a mom and pop business,” Miller said recently.

Miller came into The Cross Timbers Gazette without any experience in the publishing industry. His background was radio broadcasting and dabbling in community websites. Metro Networks (now known as Total Traffic) which provides traffic, news and sports reports to radio stations moved him here from Indianapolis in 2002 to run the DFW office. About a year after he and his wife plopped down in Lantana, he started a website for his neighbors called and shortly thereafter connected with longtime Gazette owner LaRue Johnson after finding the Gazette in his mailbox. “I thought ‘wow, this is an interesting little publication,’” he said.

The Gazette originally started in 1979 as The Double Oak Gazette newsletter put together by a group of volunteers living in one Double Oak neighborhood who wanted to keep fellow residents informed of what was happening in their town. It remained that way for a number of years when Johnson, who operated a home-based printing business, was recruited to help out. Eventually she took over the publication and in 2002 expanded it to neighboring communities including Argyle, Bartonville and Copper Canyon, changed the name to The Cross Timbers Gazette and designed it more like a traditional newspaper. “I noticed there was no Lantana news in the paper nor did it have a website so I called her up and said ‘I own this website called that I need to promote and you could use some more news so maybe we could work something out.’”

They worked out an agreement where he provided her with Lantana-focused content while she promoted his website. Miller also began posting digital editions of each issue on his website. “Then in October 2006 she calls me out of the blue and asks me if I’d like to buy The Cross Timbers Gazette,” he said, adding that it was a “God thing” with his wife expecting their first child and wanting to quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom. He printed his first edition the next month. “When I bought the paper it was only 16-20 pages, mostly black-and-white, and the circulation was only about 8,500,” Miller said. “It was barely getting into Flower Mound and wasn’t even mailed to Highland Village at the time.” Johnson guided Miller through the print world including teaching him the production software basics and mailing the paper for him.

Since Johnson wasn’t actively selling advertising, Miller joined area chambers of commerce to help build relationships with business owners and community leaders. “We are basically embedded in the community.” he said. “We live here, work here and raise our kids here. As the paper has gotten a lot bigger in both circulation and page count (it averages 80 pages monthly), our philosophy hasn’t changed. We try to give back and help in any way we can. Our slogan is ‘Local Lives Here,’ and it really does.”

He took a buyout from Metro Networks in 2009 after 17 years with the company and has been working at the Gazette full-time ever since. He later switched his website to which now receives 100,000 unique visitors and 1 million page views each month.

“Even though print is alive and well, people want to know what’s happening now,” he said. “They don’t want to wait a month, so they can follow us online as well as Twitter and Facebook which we update every day. Miller said ad sales have been steadily growing since he acquired the newspaper 12 years ago and the potential for continued growth looks good as the area continues to blossom. “When new businesses come into town they are looking for the most efficient way to connect with the community. We have that connection already. By partnering with us they are able to reach the most people at the lowest cost in a publication that people actually read.”

Miller is able to keep advertising rates low by utilizing mostly freelance writers, photographers and a designer, Crystal Adams, who has worked for the company for over ten years. He only has three full-time staff – print editor and newspaper veteran Lyn Pry, digital editor Mark Smith and sales consultant Lynne Mitchiner. Miller handles most of the advertising sales by himself and his wife Susan helps design some advertising and manages the back office. “Most of the businesses that advertise in the Gazette are small mom and pops so we can relate to their needs,” he said. “Southern Denton County is teeming with entrepreneurs and they want to work with other local businesses.”

He and his wife operate the publication while balancing parental duties of son Josh, 11, and daughter Emily, 8. “When you are working out of your home it is a unique experience since you can spend a lot of time with your family but you’re also trying to get your work done. It creates some interesting hours,” he said. “You work a lot more than if you were going to an office every day. What you gain in flexibility you make up for in overall hours worked.”

Miller said the secret to the Gazette’s success has been building strong relationships with an ever-growing number of loyal advertisers and readers. Plus, what he does is a true passion and not work. “In a changing world, small business owners appreciate the consistency we bring to the table because they know we’ll always be there for them as they and our community continue to grow,” he said.

Bob Weir
Bob Weir is a former NYPD officer, long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.

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