Nevis native continues local news effort
CONSHOHOCKEN » Are traditional newspapers a dying breed?
Not as Teresa Parris sees it.
Granted, the Conshohocken woman’s yearand-a-half-old Conshy Courier hasn’t exactly taken the area’s media scene by storm. In fact, it’s barely known within its own coverage area. But that hasn’t stopped the affable Parris even if her efforts bring to mind iconic strivers like Sisyphus or Don Quixote. And although she’s admittedly still learning the ropes — how to create content and attract advertising for her monthly print and online news entry — Parris is determined to keep her contribution to local journalism afloat.
“I still see print as very important, and my main focus with print is getting the news to people who aren’t online but want to know what’s going on in the community,” she explains.
She traces that perspective to her childhood on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Her family couldn’t afford newspapers, but a kindly neighbor saved his so she could read them.
“I’ve always loved reading the newspaper … or, before I could read, just looking at the photos in the paper,” Parris says.
She started her independent publishing career by networking with Conshohocken movers and shakers, researching archived issues of the defunct Conshohocken Recorder, accepting volunteer editorial help “whenever it was offered” and self-financing on “a very extended shoestring.” She initially mailed the Conshy Courier to anyone with a 19428 zipcode and welcomed feedback even when the latter was laced with sarcasm (for example, the issue one recipient returned with multiple “corrections” and suggestions for “improvement”).
“She offered to help me, which I accepted, but I haven’t heard from her since,” she observes dryly.
At 49, Parris is no stranger to bucking the odds.
As a kid in Nevis — also the birthplace of American founding father Alexander Hamilton, she notes — her days were bracketed by two-mile walks between home and school (with a second trek to and from for lunch), preceded by trips to a communal tap to wash up and fill drums with water for the household’s needs.
“We didn’t have running water at home, so we had to go to the neighborhood tap, and if, for some reason, there wasn’t water there, we walked to another one that was farther away … before we left for school,” Parris says. “It was a far different life from the one my daughter [12-year-old Kaitlin] has, but it was just something we all did.”
Her childhood memories also include a passion for books — especially Nancy Drew mysteries and Archie comics — quiet reading sessions under her volcanic West Indian home’s tamarind trees and not-so-quiet games with siblings, halfsiblings and other kids from Charlestown, Nevis’ capital.
“We all played in an area called Low Street,” Parris says. “It was where the underprivileged kids — I guess you’d call us — hung out … our ‘playground.’ But we had fun. We were always outside. We didn’t go home until the street lights went on.”
She was a “good student,” and her love for reading and writing was encouraged by an uncle — Ira Jeffers — who taught English literature at an area secondary Conshohocken-plymouth-whitemarsh Rotary members Jackie Rocco and Teresa Parris attend 2016’s Rotary Beer Fest fundraiser. school and was nicknamed “Teacher Jeffers.” During her own high school years, Parris won a full scholarship to Barbados Community College. She and her uncle kept in touch via letters, and “he continued to help me improve my writing.”
In college, Parris majored in tourism but never imagined how far her personal travels would take her.
“When I was younger, I actually wanted to be a detective — yes, maybe because of the Nancy Drew books — but the island’s main [industry] is tourism and off-shore banking, so tourism seemed like a more practical profession,” she says. “My dad didn’t finish high school, but he was an entrepreneur. He had a little supermarket where I worked while I was in school, and, later, he built a small hotel. Then, my sister started a restaurant, and my brother currently has a restaurant on the beach … in Nevis.”
Another brother arranged for her to immigrate to the U.S. after college, and she still gets emotional when she describes his “generosity.”
“Steven was living in [New England] at the time,” she says. “I was about 21, just out of college … and didn’t have much, but he bought my ticket here and winter clothes and was so kind to me. He still lives in New England, but he has been by my side ever since. Coming here from Nevis was scary. Yes. But I think I just wanted something more out of life.”
During her earliest years in the U.S., Parris juggled a variety of part-time jobs and added an accounting degree to her résumé. A job transfer by Marriott, one of her former employers, brought her to Conshohocken about five years ago. Parris subsequently began her own mobile notary and income tax prep service and was sworn in as a Pennsylvania constable in January 2016. In her spare time, she’s an active member of Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary Club.
Naysayers aside, Parris is optimistic about Conshy Courier’s prospects. The original eight-page print version has roughly quadrupled. It’s no longer mailed to every address with a 19428 zip code but is available free at several borough venues and online at conshycourier.com. According to Parris, its social media presence on Facebook and Twitter is growing. She launched a similar “alternative to established media” — The Norristown Local — for mail recipients with 19401 and 19403 zip codes this summer.
“The way I look at it, there’s plenty of bad news out there,” Parris says. “I want people to hear about the good news. Everybody has a story. The crossing guard at your child’s school, the older woman down the street. Local students. Everybody. No, it hasn’t been easy doing this. But it’s my way of giving back to a community that’s been very good to me.
“I learned a long time ago that the worst thing that can happen when you try something new is that you get a lot of no’s, and I’ve heard many no’s in my lifetime. But no can mean many things — not now, not yet, not ready. Yes, it’s been rough at times … not really having a working budget. That’s hard. But when people offer help, I accept. And I also accept that something like this takes time to become successful.”
Teresa Parris edits an edition of the Conshy Courier.
Teresa Parris is pictued as a teenager on the island of Nevis.