After 38 years in the newspaper business and serving as publisher for the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch for more than two decades, Cyndy Slovak-Barton is retiring from the paper to take over other family ventures.
The current Hays Free Press was founded by the Harwell family of Kyle in 1903 and has deep roots in Kyle and Buda, operating under many names including Onion Creek Free Press, The Free Press, Kyle News and more.
In 1953, two Southwest Texas State Teachers College (now Texas State University) students, Bob Barton and William “Moe” Johnson, bought the Kyle News. Barton was a social science student and Johnson was an education major.
Barton and Johnson operated the paper throughout college before Johnson left to pursue a career in education. He was a coach and teacher at the Kyle School and eventually became the first superintendent in Hays CISD. He and his wife are the namesake of the Moe and Gene Johnson High School in Buda.
Barton continued as publisher, turning the newspaper into an award-winning Hays County newspaper called the Hays County Citizen. Barton sold the Citizen in 1978 and began what has now become the Hays Free Press.
Barton’s son Jeff met his wife Cyndy while they were students at Baylor University. They worked for the newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin following their time at Baylor. They later worked for J.J “Jake” Pickle in Washington D.C. before taking over the Barton family newspaper in 1983 when Bob Barton became a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Bob was an influential political operative who mentored, advised and supported numerous candidates who became successful officeholders.
After Jeff Barton left the newspaper business in the 1990s, he became a Pct. 2 County Commissioner for Hays County from 1992 to 1999 and again from 2007 to 2010. He is now the co-owner of Gap Strategies, an urban planning and communications company that has contracts across the state. Cyndy has led the family paper to where it is today with award-winning stories and photos.
The new owner of the Hays Free Press will be Something More Newspapers, owned and operated by Tania French and her two daughters Ashley Kontnier and Schelly Bartels. They have a strong newspaper background and established ties to Hays County.
French worked for the Port Lavaca Wave for 18 years — 11 of them as a publisher — before launching Something More Media in 2018 with Kontnier and Bartels.
Both Kontnier and Bartels grew up in the newspaper business and have backgrounds in various aspects of newspaper operations; Bartels also operated a printing press for a few years.
Kontnier has been a Hays County resident for 10 years, living above the Hays Free Press while attending Texas State University. She and her husband bought their first home in Kyle and now own a home in Buda where they live with their son Kyden. She will be actively involved with Barton Publications as the paper’s new sales representative.
Bartels remains in Port Lavaca, keeping the office running smoothly. French’s third daughter Stephanie Mansfield lives in Tennessee with her family.
“I am honored that our family will play a part in carrying on the Barton family legacy,” French said. “We have been involved with the Bartons, the newspapers and the community for so many years that it seems like a natural fit. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”
Taking over as publisher is David White. David is a 1993 journalism graduate of Southwest Texas State (Texas State University). David has been with the Hays Free Press for 28 years, starting as a dark room tech and photographer. He has worn many hats in every department since then, and will now be heading the paper’s editorial department, consisting of reporters Brittany Anderson and Megan Wehring, both 2020 journalism graduates of Texas State University.
“We have a great team already in place and I can’t think of a better person to lead them than David,” French said. “It’s going to be a great year.”
“I am so happy that these newspapers will be in such good hands,” Cyndy Slovak-Barton said. “Tania and her family have felt like family for so many years, that it is natural that they should take over Barton Publications. I am proud of our combined efforts to make sure that Hays County continues to have great newspapers.”