This story was updated at 9:37 a.m. on Nov. 28, 2012.
John Clayton and Rande Davis are an unlikely duo.
Clayton is a lean, bearded and slightly shaggy Democrat, while Davis, slightly bulkier, is a clean-shaven, carefully combed Republican.
“We’re both Episcopalians, Redskins fans, and that’s about it,” Clayton said.
But the two started working together almost a decade ago, producing The Monocacy Monocle, a stalwart community newspaper serving the greater Poolesville area.
Each issue has a bit of everything: community news, remembrances, “Mystery History” columns, a garden feature and other interesting tidbits.
Davis and Clayton have been reporting, editing and publishing the paper every two weeks since 2004. Davis, who lives in Poolesville, manages the paper’s advertising and reports much of the local news, along with a small staff of contributing columnists. Clayton of Barnesville does the paper’s design, administration and billing, and much of its commentary.
Local advertisers pay the paper’s expenses, and like other publications, the Monocle struggles sometimes.
“That’s why we fluctuate in size — but you know — you take a proactive approach to your advertisers. ... We wouldn’t be doing it if we were continually losing money,” Davis said.
He’s not worried about the future of newspapers.
“The larger ones are going to struggle,” he said “The localized ones like The Monocle ... have a stronger future.”
When they started, “we were clueless,” Clayton said. The duo incorporated the paper in November 2003, expecting to put an issue out in December. It came out the following March.
Another newspaper covered the area, but the pair thought they could do better.
At his house, a few doors down from Poolesville Town Hall, Davis recalled how the two finally connected.
While he was presiding over a Monocacy Lions Club meeting, he said, someone asked, “Why doesn’t someone start a newspaper?”
“There were a lot of people cheering us on, who wanted us to be successful.” Davis said. “Our role is to reflect what this community is,” he said. “And that is that we take pride in the community.”
The name was chosen because they were trying to target southern Frederick and western Montgomery counties, they said.
They decided to name the paper for the 58-mile long Monocacy River, which makes its way through the area before emptying into the Potomac.
“I wanted more than just Poolesville — Poolesville alone wouldn’t be strong enough to support a newspaper,” Davis recalled.
His wife suggested the “Monocle” moniker. “It’s a small town. We keep one eye on the news,” Davis joked.
Clayton’s wife, a graphic designer, laid out the paper until Clayton learned enough to take over. They modeled its look after The Onion, a national satirical newspaper.
Copies of the newspaper are scattered throughout Poolesville, Barnesville, and the rest of the paper’s readership area (including the Agricultural Reserve) — at Town Hall, at the hardware store, and at the barbershop. In total, the paper has a circulation of more than 4,000, Davis said.
The paper has had to find its place in the world of instant news, Davis said.
So there are stories from his “Mystery History” column, like the one about a military academy just outside of town from around 1910 to 1930.
Today, the only sign it ever existed are “rather bold entrance posts and a guard house,” Davis said.
One of his favorite parts of the paper is its section of “Remembrances,” he said.
“It means a lot to go to funerals, hear their stories, and take their stories to the readers. It’s more intimate than an obituary,” he said.
Matt Friend, an area firefighter who also works at Bob’s Bikes in Poolesville, said “We have it at the shop. If it’s slow, I’ll take a peek at it. ... I like to take a look at what’s going on in town.”
That was the same thought of Reva Hoewing, owner of Crafts-A-Plenty on Fisher Avenue.
“I like to read it because it has lots of local happenings,” she said. She also reads the “Remembrances” column. “Sometimes a story about an older person really gives you an insight,” she said.
Bill Jamison, a real estate agent whose office sits near Old Town Hall, said “[Davis] goes out of his way to find local news stories important to locals. ...The biographies of the people who have served this community, those are the ones I like to read.”
“In the world of fast moving news, where is the scrapbook of achievements?” Davis asked. “[The Monocle] is something people can go back to.”