This has not only become a cause for me—it has transcended into a work of joy. During the past few weeks, I’ve learned so much more about who you are and what you do at community newspapers. Thanks to all of you who have offered your comments and told your stories here. Your response has been very gratifying.
I’m confident that here are still many others who would comment if they were aware of the opportunity. So I’m asking for your help: Please use your Twitter, Facebook, Google+…whatever…and let others know about this effort. Better yet, make a call or two. Or send an email. Please help in this effort by keeping the word flowing out to other community newspaper editors, managers and staffers!
My offer still stands: Anyone whose submission is published here will receive a free pdf copy of Henninger on Design. It’s my way of saying “thank you.”
Thank you all for your help.
NOTE FROM ED: The writer of this first entry sent a brief note with his submission. “I took your request, did some introspection and wrote a column for our readers explaining why I do what I do as manager of a small community paper.” His headline: “Community journalism: Not just a minor league for the daily.” His column follows.
So, why do I do what I do?
That’s what an industry consultant wants to know about those of us who dedicate our careers to working for a community newspaper. I thought I’d share my answer with you, our readers.
In my case, I’ve spent 28 years serving 23 communities ranging in size from the 8,600 homes in Oregon to the 80 homes in Rocky Ridge.
It’s certainly not for fame, wealth or a desk at the New York Times, although our photographer, Ken Grosjean, recently had a photo reprinted in the Times. The chances are slim that a Press story would get national play, but it has happened. Two come to mind: one about Marty Frankel’s criminal enterprise before he defrauded southern insurance companies of $208 million and another about Diane Conrad, the nanny who ripped off families across the United States including a Perrysburg Township one. In this latter story, the victim who was taken for $80,000 took my column entitled Dear Nanny, where did all the money go? to America’s Most Wanted. After the story aired nationally, other victims were discovered and Conrad was arrested in a Virginia motel.
A more recent example is our story about the Northwood man who died after waiting 28 minutes for help to arrive after his wife placed three 9-1-1 calls. In response, the city will implement a better system to protect its residents.
Exposing scoundrels, righting wrongs and solving problems for neighbors are obvious reasons to work for a community newspaper. But, these types of stories are infrequent. We do not live in a high-crime area and most of our public servants are just that—public servants who do a good job with limited resources. There are a slew of other reasons why I manage a community newspaper. Here are a few:
We help make dreams come true. I remember a little girl who answered a classified ad I placed to sell my daughter’s first bike. It was to be her first bike, too. She paid me $10 in quarters. The light in her eyes and the smile on her face gave me a new appreciation for what a classified ad can do.
Advertising can do the same for adults. I was reminded of this at a recent chamber function, sitting next to one of our most loyal clients and his son. He paid for college educations for five children, mostly because of his business acumen, but also because he places a significant ad schedule in our paper. In turn, his support has helped me pay for college educations for two of my children.
I have heard similar stories from other small business owners who credit our newspaper with playing a part in their success. These businesses help build viable communities through the taxes they generate, the traffic they attract and the jobs they provide. Supplying a cost-effective product for them is also satisfying. So, too, is helping families with their buying decisions. According to our latest audit from the Circulation Verification Council, 80 percent of those who receive The Press regularly read it and 76 percent regularly purchase products and services seen in The Press.
We also help those less fortunate and those facing a crisis. In one instance, we wrote about a young cancer victim whose insurance company wouldn’t pay for a bone marrow transplant. We also donated ads to publicize a benefit which raised more than $18,000. Over the years, we have written many such stories and donated many ads to community groups so they can use their limited resources to deliver services to those in need.
We celebrate the best of us and the best in us. We write about sports triumphs, classroom excellence and personal success. This year, for example, we wrote about three women who accomplished remarkable things: One overcame Guillain-Barre Syndrome to play college soccer; one completed the 800-mile Serum Run dog sled race in Alaska; and another was the first woman pilot in the United States Marines.
We also inspire our readers. One of our regular columnists, Bryan Golden, provides advice on how to meet your goals, live in the present, control your emotions and manage stress. We have received many notes about his column. Here’s one: “I just wanted to say “thank you” for your very supportive articles. They are extremely inspiring – so much so that I cut them out and mail them to my family. I always appreciate reading something of worth – your articles live up to my expectations.”
Over the years, I’ve written more than 150 columns about local people who rose above the difficult challenges they faced. They include the Genoa grandmother who helped solve her daughter’s murder, the East Toledo man who survived gruesome medical experiments at the hands of the Nazis during World War II and the Oregon man who donated a kidney to his father.
Our reporters have written similar stories about the courage, generosity and passion for life our readers have.
To me, community journalism is not just a minor league for the daily newspaper or a public relations firm. A good newspaper is a mirror of thecommunity it serves, it is an outlet for the rants and raves of its readers, it informs, it makes you laugh, cry and care, and at times, it can make you so mad you throw your paper against the wall.
John Szozda | General Manager | Press Newspapers
I often tell my staff, “This is not the New York Times.”
There is a place, of course, for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, or, in our area, even the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
But at my newspaper, we don’t want to be any of them.
In fact, when I became owner of my little newspaper almost 17 years ago, I made a conscious decision. We would not carry Dear Abby or comics, or subscribe to the Associated Press.
The goal from the beginning was to cover our local community and what the people in it were doing.
One of my first issues had a story about a local man who discovered giant mushrooms growing in a field. His picture was on the front cover. We had stories about the local man whose brother played with the Light Crust Doughboys back in the ‘30s, and the local girl who was trying out for the Olympics.
Over the years, I have seen hundreds of people from my community line up to give blood, so they could be tested as a possible bone marrow donor for a little boy with a dreaded disease.
I have watched, and covered, hundreds of football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, softball, and baseball games, and not just at the high school level.
I have seen our local football team move from mediocre 17 years ago to a team that’s now playing for its third consecutive state championship. And I’ve watched the number of media outlets who cover the team increase almost exponentially from year to year.
Thinking about that, I realized that there is a big difference between my newspaper and those other media outlets, and it is this: If, tragically, our football team ever had a 1-9 season, the other media will be off to the Next Big Thing, and I will still be here covering them.
That’s the difference for a community newspaper.
We cover the big stuff, but we also cover the little stuff. Win or lose, we’re there to cheer on and cover our local teams, and kids, and families, and schools.
Living in the community we cover has its impact on the way we approach stories, as well.
If the mayor gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar, we’re certainly going to report it; but even then the coverage will reflect the fact that we may run into him at the grocery store, the baseball game or in church.
That reality leads to better reporting, and less sensationalizing.
Our world has its share of what I call “obsessive-compulsive” media. Large media outlets go from one big thing to the next, with a short attention span.
At the community newspaper level, if we have an obsession, it is our community – from one week to the next. Our archives are filled with stories that would never have seen the light of day in the metro dailies, but that have touched, or angered, or overjoyed many local readers over the years.
A good local paper may be owned by an individual or group, but it belongs to the community. It is the community’s resource to find out who won, how high the city council set the water rates, how a local girl’s brain surgery turned out or when the community’s big bike ride is going to take place.
Local groups all have their own websites and Facebook pages and email lists now, but there is only one place where all those groups and individuals can come together and see what all the others are up to.
It has always been, and will always be, their community newspaper.
Randy Keck | Publisher | The Community News
You might work at a community newspaper if… | Top Five:
5. …A subscriber calls and says they need to renew their “prescription” (not “subscription”), a common mixup down South.
4. …You stopped the press because a bull got out and ran across the road, causing a five-car pile up that also would have held up the delivery driver for the route anyway.
3. …You run the only business where you can sell something that once belonged to a relative and yet place their obit at the same time.
2. …”Freedom of the press” means your pressman has decided it’s time to print the paper.
1. …Every advertiser wants to get a full page worth of info into a 2×2 ad—and then complains because the ad didn’t work!
Baretta Taylor | Group Sales and Marketing Director | South Hill Enterprise
I knew in November, 1963, just days before JFK was assassinated what my dream job would be. I always knew it would be in journalism, but really thought I would be just a sports writer. On a cool November day, I went to my hometown newspaper, as a sophomore in high school, to tell them they needed to improve their sports page. It was pitiful to almost non-existent. They didn’t cover games and didn’t take photos. They just wrote a short story from the scoring summary that was in the Lexington Herald.
The editor told me I could have that job and he’d pay me $15 a month. Now even to a sophomore in high school, $15 wasn’t worth the effort.
But as I left that day, I turned around, looked at the office and told myself, “Someday I’m going to be the editor and publisher of this newspaper.”
It took 16 years to fulfill that dream but in March, 1979, I was named editor of the Georgetown News and Georgetown Times, twin weekly newspapers. Two months later, I added the title of publisher of the newspaper. So I got to live my dream and loved it for four and a half years. I wouldn’t have learned everything about newspapering in any other position. From how to manage a newspaper, how to use a Compugraphic and do layout with a waxer and X-acto knife, how to sell subscriptions to what Open Meetings and Open Records laws were and why we had them. And I tell college classes I even learned how to properly clean the floor to get the wax from the waxer off the linoleum.
But most of all, I learned most everything I needed for my present job, executive director of the Kentucky Press Association. Without that experience, running a newspaper, especially a weekly newspaper, I wouldn’t have been qualified for a job I’ve had the last 28 years.
Some might think I didn’t have lofty aspirations, if I just wanted to be publisher and editor of my hometown newspaper But it was what I wanted to do, I did it and from that experience alone, I have faced many of the situations my member newspapers have so I can understand their problems and suggest ways to handle them.
David Thompson | Executive Director | Kentucky Press Assn.
I’ll never forget the first day I set foot into the office of my hometown newspaper. I was a sophomore in high school and was beginning a part-time job at the paper as a darkroom technician. I would come in after school, develop film and print photos for the paper that week.
It was my first connection to the newspaper business…and one that I never forgot.
I worked at the Green River Republican in Morgantown, Kentucky, a small weekly newspaper in western Kentucky. I would often go into the back room of the paper, where the old presses were still set up. They had long been silenced and were covered in dust. I recall sitting at one of two old Linotype machines. They, too, were dust covered.
However, as I sat there, I imagined myself typing away on a breaking news story. I didn’t realize it then, but those days would affect my life as I got older.
As a darkroom technician, I fell in love with the photographic process as I would watch the images come to life in the developing pan. I was hooked on photography and, before long, bought my own camera.
Over the years, my love affair with photography continued. It was that love of photography that brought me back to the newspaper business in 1990, when I started as a writer/photographer at the Sentinel-Echo in London. I had no writing experience and had to learn on the job. After five years there, I got out of the business for a brief time and pursued other jobs. But, as fate would have it, I returned to the business in 1999 when I took a position at the News-Journal in Corbin, where I worked until taking a position as a writer/photographer here at the Barbourville Mountain Advocate.
Over the years, I have witnessed the newspaper business undergo many changes. One thing, however, has not changed.
Community newspapers are the backbone of the community, in my opinion.
The large papers may cover national news, but they are not interested in scooping us when the local Boy Scout troop gives a donation to the local food pantry. They are not going to scoop us when our local middle school basketball team wins a notable game. These events aren’t
important enough for them to cover. They are, however, important to the people in our community. As a matter of fact, news items such as these are at the heart of community journalism, because they give us, as writers and photographers, the chance to touch the heart of the community.
As newspaper staffers, we have a big responsibility to our readers. It is also an exciting opportunity. We must inform, educate, entertain, and provoke thought from our readers.
It is, indeed, an exciting time to be in the business.
Eddie Arnold | Editor | Barbourville Mountain Advocate
Last week, I visited a family owned newspaper in a town of 38,000. This daily is located 30 miles from another daily paper in a city of 200,000 owned by a major corporation. I talked with the editor, who had previously worked at the larger paper and he told me left the large corporate world to go back to working for a “real” newspaper.
Funny, while the paper in the larger city continues to “eke” out an existence by sharing a publisher with another newspaper, cutting staff and continually cutting the number of pages, the smaller paper has a staff approximately the same size as the “big city” paper, offers more compelling stories and makes a healthy profit.
Kevin Slimp | Consultant
Thank you. My editor e-mailed me the link to your blog, and I appreciate what you are doing there. I’m “just” a reporter for a small-town newspaper (the weekly El Paso Journal in El Paso, Illinois), but I fervently believe that local newspapers are vital. In some ways, I see it as similar to small-town politics: one can make a huge difference in a small area. State and national politics are important, absolutely … but local politics, local papers, local school boards — that is where one person can truly make a difference, and usually without the soul-selling that seems necessary when one is part of a larger forum. I don’t have to do the wheeling and dealing, the compromising of some deeply held beliefs and principles that may be required or at least asked of people who work in a larger arena. I love my work, even when I agonize over it.
Jennie Kearney | Reporter | El Paso Journal
Disclaimer: I’m stealing one of my boss’s oft-used pieces of wisdom here; although I wish I’d been the one to originally express this though. :) “Community newspapers are a community having a conversation with itself.”
They are not just ‘important’ – they are a vital part of the communities they serve. Community newspapers, I believe, have often unwittingly tried to define the community for themselves, generally using their distribution footprint as the definition of the local community. In reality, most community newspapers will serve multiple communities, defined by a range of factors (Municipal boundaries, suburban boundaries, ethnic backgrounds, etc).
Community newspapers matter because they give each of these communities an opportunity to talk amongst themselves and to each other. They inform, entertain and educate their readers and, in doing so, provide communities with their voice.
Trevor | Fairfax Media
I’m in a position that I believe perfectly supports the importance of a community newspaper. I’m a reporter, photographer, editor and layout person for the Turret, a small weekly that publishes for the military audience at Fort Knox.
According to many recent articles (see Time Magazine articles and others), soldiers are becoming more and more removed from their civilian counterparts.
The articles suggest Soldiers are coming home to a nation that doesn’t know them. Since only 1 percent of the U.S. population serves in the active services, that statement is true. Gone are the days of the draft, when the two-year hitch in the service was considered a rite of passage for young men.
Gone are the days when most people could relate to some brother, uncle or other family member who had imparted some general knowledge of the armed forces. Gone are the days when high school graduates were expected to do their “duty” by serving in the armed forces.
While their job is a difficult one, Soldiers do not want someone to pity them for their losses or challenges. They volunteered, they did their jobs, they are proud of their accomplishments in assisting and defending a people that needed help. They “took their lumps.” They often resent those who want to focus on the losses, the destruction, the price they have paid.
Some Soldiers returning from conflict have trouble shouldering their pre-war, non-combat roles. Some need more time than others to deal with adjustments.
Most, however, adapt with help from families and their military communities because they know they’re not in it alone; they know other Soldiers have shared their experiences and understand the ugliness they all strive to forget.
As it’s being repeated here, most Soldiers come home with post-traumatic stress growth, not disorder, as their combat time made them stronger, tougher, leaner, more mature warriors.
More than ever, these Soldiers need a medium that speaks their language, empathizes with their heartaches, honors their commitments, informs them, and supports their efforts to reintegrate without pity or charity.
At Fort Knox, that medium is the Turret. Family members who never donned a uniform as well as those who have hung up their uniforms are represented in large numbers as civilian employees, contractors and service agencies. We continue to serve and support Soldiers in many ways, perhaps the most important of which is listening to their stories and sharing
Maureen Rose | Acting Editor | Fort Knox Turret
Almost 40 years ago, a colleague infected me with a community newspaper virus.
There is no known antidote.
Ted Hall had gone from Time magazine to the small town on the Canadian border where he spent carefree summers as a dreamy kid growing up in northern Minnesota.
Ted called his little newspaper The Rainy Lake Chronicle.
In it he covered local government meetings with an eye for fine detail including indelible descriptions of the characters who ran the town.
He wrote about local marriages as the uniting of families in the tradition of Carson McCullers and Charles Dickens. He even reported on what the town dogs were up to.
In a small town, a journalist has to find material. No one sends him press releases about the ladies book club and what the family fed the local minister when he came for Sunday dinner.
Ted wrote a personal column that was pure poetry. The cadence of his sentences captured the ebb and flow of life on Rainy Lake so well that when he invited me up for a visit, it felt like coming home.
During those years, my life was editing daily newspapers in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. These newspapers had fine reporters and occasionally inspired editors. But the arrival each week of Ted’s paper, James Russell Wiggins’ Ellsworth American and Scotty Reston’s Vineyard Gazette was a special occasion worth climbing into bed an hour early and reading them cover to cover before sleep.
In 1984, we had an opportunity to acquire an interest in a small town newspaper in our native state as minority managing partners. My wife and I took our family home to South Carolina.
Our apprenticeship in community newspapers lasted seven years. But it was an education that was to pay off.
Due to conflict and lack of respect from our majority partners, we resigned.
At the urging of the community, we launched a rival newspaper.
Nine years and seven editors later, the third owner since we resigned asked us to buy him out. Our advantage had been a commitment to serve our community. Our competitors disadvantage was in treating the newspaper like a cash cow.
Publishing a community newspaper is a demanding way to live. It’s not unlike taking a vow of poverty or doing a stint in the Peace Corps. You may not become deliriously wealthy but you will live an exciting and fulfilling life.
It is a romance and a marriage. There is nothing else like it – or even close.
Jerry Bellune | Consultant
Thanks for the opportunity to share. Two observations:
(1) Earlier in my career as an editor, I embraced a traditional (and maybe romantic) vision of community journalism: That a community publication was to be a reflection of its community; a teller of the community’s story; even a defender, in some ways, of its values.
While there’s certainly still something to be said for those convictions, I’ve found that it’s at least as important for a community publication to be a place where the local community can go to get a vision of the wider world. Especially these days, when it’s so easy for people to “cocoon” with their own opinions, whether on the right or left, our role in exposing people to as wide a variety of views as possible is more important than ever.
Our market is in the middle of the most politically and culturally conservative region of the state (Illinois). Many readers believe we should reflect that bias; increasingly, I have readers who are even offended that opinions differing from their own are represented at all on our opinion page. (Some are even offended when those opinions are quoted in news stories.) But it’s precisely because our market is isolated in this way that I believe we have an even greater responsibility to present as wide a range of viewpoints as we can. You may be able to “cocoon” elsewhere, but not in the Daily News.
(2) Community publications are the best places, by far, for young journalists to gain experience. That’s been proved over and over again by the feedback I get from interns over the years, even those bound for metros.
Nowhere else, they almost unanimously say, would they have been exposed to as wide a range of interests and skills and challenges as they were at our shop. At the area university we partner with, we’ve had four or five interns in a row return from their experience here to their final year of school as editor-in-chief or managing editor of their student publication. Those who intern at metros don’t seem to rise to those leadership positions nearly as often as ours have.
And because we are the best place for training young journalists, I believe community publications have a responsibility, to the industry and to the J-schools that feed it, to become involved in journalism education however and wherever they can — whether it’s by helping with the local high-school paper, to developing those hiring relationships with area J-schools, to community journalists getting on campus for workshops and even as adjunct faculty.
I don’t think this is just a nice thing to do: I don’t think we have an option not to. Community publications, no matter where they are or on what platform, are the “growth edge” of journalism, and a lot of the kids who would have gone to metros are going to be looking at us. We need to be ready for them, and we need to help them be ready for us.
Greg Bilbrey | Editor | Daily News
The community newspaper acts as the voice and conscience of their community. The watchdog and the informer.
Mosby Wiggington Jr.
Community newspapers are the true voice of cities and townships across the globe. There are many platforms for broad-based news, from major dailies to magazines, radio, TV and cable and the Internet. But they don’t go deep enough — that’s where the community newspaper comes into play. They may not cover the Iraq war or President Obama’s latest move, but they cover the fact that your next-door neighbor’s son scored the winning touchdown in Friday’s high school game, and that the garbage isn’t being picked up on Monday, but Tuesday, due to the holiday. They are also the only ones that watchdog local government. They pay attention to the little things that end up an important part of your life.
Community newspapers are heart of the community – They provide local news. local photos, local items of interest, local community events and activities and connect local groups with their community.
We encourage our community to be part of the local newspaper – They submit local news articles and photos and we credit them with the a byline and/or photo credit.
As owner/editor of the Sun City News, I have employed the policy – “If it’s not local news, we don’t publish it.”
We have delivered a great little local community newspaper and website that received accolades, year in, year out, as the best newspaper around.
Only community newspapers bother to be part of the community, work with the community, then give back to the community.
Local community newspapers RULE!
Terry Loftus | Director/Editor | Sun City News
Nisreen, David, Mosby and Karl have aptly captured the essence of the role and importance of community newspapers. They cover stories that the mainstream media often overlooks.
There is no wire service that touches what is printed in a community newspaper.
It’s the heartbeat of the area.
Gale Kaas | Publisher | Frazee-Vergas Forum
I live in a small county in Idaho and have created an on-line newspaper. Due to the limited population, printing one at this time is too expensive.
Because the people in this area want local representation. And with most of the printing sources being potential competition and/or too expensive we are kind of doing it backwards. It has been up for about five months now and is finally getting used and appreciated. There is a huge pool of expert knowledge here and I would greatly appreciate some opinions on it. I came from Southern California a year and a half ago where we went from one local weekly in 1996 to five when I left in 2010. People are definitely hungry for local news by local people.
Bruce Lehmann | Publisher | Fremont County Courier
I cut my teeth on a small weekly in an Illinois community of 10,000 people. I found myself involved in everybody’s lives. They took my editorials seriously. They watched my reporting like a hawk and were not at all shy about barging into my office or writing a letter to let me know what they thought. In fact I had to learn how to cool my jets to avoid hurting neighbors. I loved it, I grew a lot, and it was my favorite times in a 40 year journalism career. I miss it!
Thanks & God Bless!
Dennis Lombard | Editor & Publisher | Home Times Family Newspaper
If you add the new technology to suburban newspapering you have a winning combination.
Bill Foster | Waco Citizen Newspaper | The Suburban Courier
Thank you for the kind words about weekly community newspapers. If you stop to think about it all of the big newspapers (or most of them) began as weekly newspapers. They grew as their communities and technology made it possible. I was born into a weekly newspaper family in 1945. I think the only daily in Northern California at that time might have been the Sacramento Bee. I don’t include San Francisco as it is really in Central Coast. My parents at various times owned the Shasta Dial (Central Valley), Intermountain News (Burney), and the Surprise Valley Journal in Cedarville. All three were small weekly community newspapers. They were all a vital part of their communities. Any news you got in those days (except for the gossip over the fence or on the party line) came from your local newspaper. We didn’t have TV. The paper covered the county government and local school boards keeping the community informed. It covered accidents, fires, births, marriages, deaths, and school events and sports. It even covered the 4-H and Boy and Girls Scouts. It was big news when someone went over to Reno or down to the city.
We didn’t have reporters. They were contributors. My dad set the copy on a lino type machine and printed it on a one page at a time press. (I don’t know the name of it) I have seen examples of that press in museums and amazed at the quality he was able to produce on it. My two sisters and I all helped in the shop after school when we got big enough.
My parents’ dedication to their community was expressed every Thursday when the paper came out. It went in the mail and on the street. People waited for it so they could see what was happening. Also, they wanted to see if they would be mad at Darrell’s editorial. The only place they could get their news was from the weekly newspaper.
Today, my husband and I own and operate the Mountain Echo newspaper in Fall River Mills, California. For over 35 years we have reported on our communities ( we cover three main areas). We also depend on contributors (or stringers). I don’t think I am bragging when I say we have the best local sports coverage in our area. Including the Daily newspaper. We cover all of the local Districts (school, hospital, water, fire, cemetery) on a steady basis. We also cover the 4-H and other kid stuff. We cover the local VFW, Soroptimists, Lions, Chamber of Commerce and any other organizations who need to let the public know what they are doing.
People also pick the newspaper up or wait for it in their mailboxes and boy do we hear about it if it is late. And, yes the first thing many of them read is the editorial my husband writes on a weekly basis to see if they are going to be mad at him this week or not. My dad told us growing up that when you write editorials half the people are mad at you half the time and it isn’t always the same half.
Things are a bit easier for us than it was for my parents. Computers and digital cameras have made it possible for us to do things faster and better technically. We no longer print our paper. It is printed by the daily newspaper in Redding as they have the presses. They do a great job for us.
Even in today’s world of TV, internet, and instant communication people still want the local newspaper because the big guys don’t cover them and we do.
I could go on but you didn’t ask us to write a book.
Again, thank you for your kind words on behalf of community newspapers.
Donna Caldwell | Publisher/Mountain Echo | Fall River Mills, CA
Where else will people get the news about what is happening in their community?
BUT – and this is the thing, in Australia anyway – do people really care about (traditional) news any more, especially young people?
I have four teens in my family (and their associated friends). None of them read newspapers. Few of them watch TV news. None listen to radio news.
So the challenge we face is how to convince these Y Gens that news is important. That politics is important. That volunteering is important. That there is more happening in the world than just their social circle.
THIS is the hurdle we need to overcome. This new generation just does not care what is happening around them because they have had everything done for them. They have received everything they have asked for (iPhones, iPads, PCs etc etc).
Why should they be worries about what’s happening outside their world? Someone has always taken care of that and them!
Apologies; this has become more of a rant than an answer to the question, but I believe it is intertwined.
Someone, somehow, needs to tap in to what how this new generation wants to be informed, if it does at all.
Scary concept, but I see it every day.
The only people I publish a newspaper for now are those over 45 who have grown up with them.
Mark Bransdon | Editor | Southern Highland News
TWO REPLIES TO MARK:
Mark: Don’t underestimate their interest in news and their non-traditional concepts. As a former president of the Michigan Press Association, our industry has noted the changes in readership. While newspaper circulation is declining, actual readership is up, when you take the Internet into consideration. And where do Internet followers get their news? From traditional news organizations! Like newspaper, radio and television sites online.
There is no doubt that readership is changing. And there is no doubt that young readership is a challenge. But I think people inside and outside of our industry underestimate young people’s interest in news. They may seek it in different packages and different ways, but surveys show that they do still seek it. In additional, as they age and their interests change, the type of news that they seek will change.
Mark, when I was a teen, my world was pretty small and protected, too. I delivered newspapers, but I didn’t read them. I watched television for entertainment; when the news came on, I went looking for something interesting to do. I don’t think this challenge is anything new, nor do I see it as scary.
Were YOU reading and watching news when YOU were a teen?
David Merrill | CEO | Clarient Solutions
AND ANOTHER COMMENT:
About young readers: I think Karl is absolutely right. Don’t give up on the younger generation yet. I’ve been helping the kids at a new high school form their own newspaper and I’m floored by the talent and enthusiasm they bring to the project. Besides, if the kids aren’t reading about what interests their parents, the parents certainly want to read about the kids, and where else are they going to do that but the local paper. And while I agree with most comments here that there’s a continuing need for local news, there’s also a strong need for local businesses to stay in touch with the communities they serve and it’s the local paper’s business to see that they do as much as it is to cover the rest of the news. Keeping a community informed is one aspect; keeping it economically healthy is another. People trust the businesses that continue to advertise in the local paper and those who are in the classifieds from issue to issue.
Jay Gamel | Production Editor | Kenwood Press
In the small town where I live, our weekly newspaper is the only way people get accurate information about local issues.
The county newspaper is semiweekly and is unwilling to publish information about volatile issues (taxes, school board, law enforcement) so we try to publish it. Being a weekly means that sometimes the news is not as timely as I would like, but the news gets out there. And because I started working at a community newspaper (circled through a major daily and back “home” again), I spend a lot of energy and time mentoring high school and college interns to give them a chance to be reporters in our community. It brings them into the process, gives me good copy and expands readership.
As editor and publisher, I have to organize my time carefully, but it is worth it. Cradle to grave, and every basketball game, citizenship award, hole-in-one, marriage and nature note in between. We have an online presence but our primary readership is still in print (3,500/week). I am lucky to live in a place that values good writing and editing, and that cares about community.
Laura Willis | Editor and Publisher | Sewanee Messenger
It is so lovely to read these stories.
My family business is a weekly in a very small village and my father was its first Mayor after incorporation, too. My grandmother, who was also working at the paper, became the mayor some time after that (for 12 years). My dad and mum worked with me until their deaths. Now there is just me, my husband who helps on the tech side – and assorted family members who help out on mailing day when they are around. I wonder if the paper will continue after me, and I’m now 57.
I always tell people that it isn’t just a job – it’s a way of life. The legacy I received includes the constant attempt to help people see the good in life and in each other. That is a much different point of view than the larger media. When there are bad or tragic stories to report, we attempt to do that in a way that puts the feelings of the family first. While that is the most difficult part of my job, when you get it right, you know it and it feels good.
My subscribers know the value of the paper and keep their subscriptions even when they have lived elsewhere for years and years. But I would have to say that our small towns are changing slowly and people even here are less in touch with each other. As that fades, the influence of the community newspaper also fades. However, as we have ridden out many tough times, we will continue and see what unfolds next.
Vicki Wallace | Cartwright, Manitoba
If people are not going to attend the board meetings — and most will not — the only other way for them to keep informed is to read about it in their local newspaper. The need for community journalism is not going away anytime soon.
Our system of government works best when people pay attention to city hall, to their school, to the hospital board, the appraisal district, and to commissioner’s court. When people pay no attention, they will find their taxes going through the roof, and corruption eke its way into the system.
Oops! Sounds like Washington, doesn’t it? But the same will happen on a local level if taxpayers are not careful.
It’s alarming to hear people say they no longer read a newspaper — any newspaper — because that means they are not informed. People can’t get reliable news from ABC, NBC, and CBS, and they certainly cannot get local news from these sources. As a consequence, they either vote without being informed — or they do not vote. You can be on Facebook and Twitter, and receive Google alerts, but that does not make you part of the real community. You risk the chance of getting lost in the virtual world and thinking you are connected, yet being clueless about local issues.
In our industry, we are battling more than just the economy. Competition comes from television, radio, billboards, and now social media as well. We are simultaneously dealing with everything wireless, mobile, and Smart! Trying to be all things to all people leaves us a bit breathless, but we need to take a deep breath and understand who we are.
A generation or so ago, newspaper publishers were making money with little effort. Today, I know that we are not alone when we say that we are working three times as hard JUST TO STAY EVEN. Whereas, we used to graciously answer the phone when advertisers called wanting to buy an ad, we now are planning special projects, tab sections, contests, and other promotions involving our readers and advertisers. Our business is helping their business, and we take our business seriously.
Newspapers are the glue that keeps a community together.
We may just be our own worst enemies for not recognizing that and proclaiming it in big, bold headlines.
Elaine Kolodziej | Publisher | Wilson County News
Community newspapers are important for so many reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is the focus on those people who make up a community. Small-town newspapers feature stories about people that otherwise may never be printed. For example, our East Peoria Times-Courier recently featured a story about a young boy who collects items to send to troops overseas at Christmas. This boy’s efforts may have gone unnoticed otherwise.
In addition to calling attention to the good deeds of small-town folks, a community newspaper keeps people informed about what’s happening where they live. For anyone who cares (and they should) about their local city council, the tax rate, what the school board is voting on, the church social, the fundraiser for the local woman who has cancer, etc., they will find it in their community newspaper.
Another very important aspect of a community newspaper is that it is a recorder of history. Obituaries, marriages, births and arrests are a matter of record and are printed in the newspaper and archived by local libraries and historical groups. Daily newspapers carry these same types of items, but a community newspaper makes that young boy who collected items for troops overseas a part of history as well.
A community newspaper is a tool that, first and foremost, informs and entertains, but it also creates a bond for like-minded people. Those who take pride in their community surely read their hometown newspaper!
Jeanette Kendall | Executive Editor | Times Newspapers
Community newspapers continue to be the best source for community news. Metros, state and national outlasts can’t cover it all.
Your local news is best and most completely covered by your community newspaper.
Chuck Nunn | News Editor | The Herald Journal
The community newspaper is the only place to get local news; you won’t see it on TV or online. Patch.com is coming close, but the money is lacking. Work hard and keep your audience.
Small-town, community newspapers are important because they focus not only on the village board or the school board, but also they put a spotlight on the community-members who make the town what it is. The smaller stories that bigger newspapers would be uninterested in are explored. It’s those stories that make a small-town newspaper so interesting. People who have lived in the community their whole lives can discover new and astonishing people and places through the community newspaper.
Chelsea Peck | Editor | Morton Times-News
Community newspapers are important because they bring attention to issues that locals are passionate about that get overlooked by the major publications. With regular city council meetings, school board meeting and student achievements, many slip between the cracks from the major outlets and many in smaller communities want to stay up to date with what is going on. Community newspapers keep the locals in the loop and tell them what is going on with important issues and special features.
Philip Lasseigne | News Editor | East Peoria Times-Courier
Community newspapers are important because we focus on real people — not just those who are considered celebrities or public officials. Whether you are an average resident or one of the movers and shakers in a community shouldn’t matter when it comes to a community newspaper. There are always high-profile events that bring in the news crews and daily newspaper, but when the dust clears we are the ones who continually give them the information they need and want. Whether the news comes from schools, clubs, city council, or more, the information directly affects their lives. They want to know why or how things work. They enjoy reading about a need and saying to themselves, “I could help fix that.” They want to read about the miscellaneous items in police news — because it happened on their block — that some may consider trivial.
One of the most important aspects of a community newspaper is airing the truth. In a small town, gossip, misinformation and outright lies can ravage a community. I remind those who I am quoting (police chief, fire chief, mayor, superintendent, etc.) that it is their time to dispel the rumors and speak the truth. That’s what we’re after.
Community newspapers are very important for residents wanting genealogical or past history. If the newspaper has been around for many years, most everyone looks to the paper as a key to remembering the past. Our history is intertwined with the city’s history.
There are so many reasons why community newspapers are important, and these are just a few of the highlights.
Marianne Gillespie | Editor | Chillicothe Times-Bulletin
The Woodford Times is less than two-years-old, yet because we have embraced the communities we cover they have embraced us.
That has happened because we give our readers what they want – coverage of the little things that happen in their community. They’ve learned to trust us. That trust has resulted in readers giving us access to the intimate stories of their lives.
Later this week I will be going to the home of a woman who has been hospitalized since August after a near-fatal car accident. Because I have done 10 stories to the daily’s one or two, they have invited me to be there for her return home. These people feel connected to the paper. That gives us greater insight into those really important stories, which facilitates our desire to serve and the reader’s need to know.
Small towns are the backbone of this country, like small businesses are the backbone of our economy.
Community newspapers embrace the small town and bring out the big stories. It’s not the size of the circulation that makes a newspaper important, it is the commitment to serve the readers.
DeWayne Bartels | Editor | Woodford Times
Community newspapers continue to be the one and only true source for local news, advertising and information. Without the community newspaper, small cities and towns suffer. The newspaper brings the community together for the common good of the community. What is good for the newspaper is good for the community and vice versa. Can you imagine your town not having a newspaper? How would you follow your local high schools, local government, local happenings? Without your community newspaper, local citizens would be left in the dark in many ways! Thanks.
Pat Roll | Publisher | The Fayette Advertiser
It’s truer now than ever that the community weekly newspaper is the best source for local news. Often it’s the only source.
For many years one or both of the dailies in Birmingham – 70 miles away – had a correspondent here in Guntersville. The Huntsville Times – 35 miles away – had a full-time reporter here too.
The Birmingham papers dropped their correspondent here 40 or 50 years ago, although they still provided daily delivery. Today, home delivery isn’t even available here.
The Huntsville paper started cutting back by making their Marshall County reporter also responsible for an adjoining county, meaning less time to cover each. Later, our county was tacked onto the coverage area for still another county. After recent staff cutbacks, their coverage has been reduced even further.
The Huntsville and Birmingham newspapers (our closest major market dailies) are admirable providers of news. I’m sure they regretted having to cut back their coverage outside of their central area. But it has made the hometown weeklies (twice-weekly in our case) more essential than ever for people trying to keep up with what’s happening where they live.
Sam Harvey | Editor | The Advertiser-Gleam
I’ve been fortunate enough to work as a journalist for community newspapers in both the United States and Australia.
While on the frontlines of reporting local news, I often covered stories overlooked by large dailies and online news outlets. Why you ask? Because frustrated politicians, community officials, and local residents would repeatedly tip me off to key issues that needed investigating despite larger news outlets turning a blind eye to them. (These same online and regional newspapers instead focusing on stories that could be turned out quickly for online consumption and requiring less face-to-face research.)
One story that stands out in my mind developed after I had a conversation with a local politician. She had been alerted to the fact that several residents of the city’s low-income housing units were living in buildings with longstanding gas leaks; many residents complained of inexplicable health issues and rising gas costs. Most couldn’t afford the inflated gas bills and were being threatened with eviction notices.
The politician felt the housing authority was failing to cooperate sufficiently with her office and so she asked us—the community newspaper—for help. After looking into it with the support of my editor, I uncovered numerous injustices by the area’s low-income housing authority.
As a result of these investigations, the low-income buildings were renovated and residents were compensated for their medical and gas bills. The final tally ran into millions of dollars. It was a big win for the community, and resounding proof that community newspapers listen to readers and change lives for the better.
Local, hometown newspapers provide news, information, and reports that no one else can provide. While most people will without a doubt be deluged with the perpetual bad news coming from Washington and Wall Street, the only media outlet that will report on their son’s athletic achievements or their daughter’s scholastic accomplishments is the community newspaper. In other words, the local paper speaks to the core of what a community reallyfinds important.
Similarly, while the average person is frequently and incessantly bombarded by ads proclaiming deep discounts and storewide savings from the national chains of big-box stores, it is the community newspaper that champions (as well as thrives on) the mom-and-pop store that offers unmatched personal service. The community’s local newspaper is the only source that tells people where their tax dollars are going and how they are being spent. Neighborhood sporting events are covered on a weekly, and usually daily, basis. The community paper will always be looked to when it comes to upcoming town meetings and the actions of the local government.
Whether the newspaper comes in a printed copy or a digital format, readers will keep coming back to the only source of relevant stories that impact them every day. They will keep coming back because the hometown newspaper readership consists of parents, grandparents, students, co-workers, friends, and neighbors.
Jordan Orwig | Director of Advertising | Sullivan Daily Times
A strong community newspaper has earned the respect of community leaders for fairness and comprehensive community coverage and has earned the trust of the citizen to present the news and information that makes it worthwhile to read the newspaper. The community newspaper often has a role as a community partner supporting numerous community ventures and organizations. It also becomes the community co-ordinator of pro and con discussion and analysis of issues critical to the future of the community. A strong-serving community newspaper should be welcome to sit on the coffee table throughout the week as a reference for news, information and shopping guidance.
Peter Haggert | Editor | Toronto Community News
Our little weekly is the only way that some local news gets out. Things like high school honor rolls, high school sports scores, local church bazaars and local-boy-does-good stories have no interest for the big news conglomerate that owns the closest daily newspaper, but a lot of interest for the people in the area. Hydrofracking and natural gas have become a big issue in the area and our paper tries to give the most accurate local news about local issues.
The dailies in our area are more interested in the state and national news. When our area was flooded, our paper carried photos of the area that no other paper had. Because our news is largely submitted by people in the area, they feel they “own” the paper.
Cindy Tiley | Graphic designer | Tri-Town News
We have begun a weekly
of 40,000 print run just last week, addressing a community in an area in Chennai, India. I had been working for a city paper and I can see the difference. The community paper is bringing in a lot more connect in the ease of readers being in touch. People in the area find us more approachable and easy to mail/or call.
Community papers will have stronger roles to play, especially in a country like India which leans heavily on national newspapers and television, that focus only on the larger picture and not on the immediate concerns of the people.
Sandhya Sridhar | Director | Pageturn Publisher Private Ltd | Chennai, India
The bloggers may be out there in numbers, and it may be easy to be a journalist these days, but who else but the weekly newspaper reporter will actually sit through all those school board, village board and town board meetings week after week to bring readers the news? Who else will attend dry budget meetings, decipher the numbers, and tell readers how they will affect their tax bills and what capital projects such as road and park improvements their tax dollars will fund?
We have all the news on local school, village and town board candidates and election coverage that no one else has.
AND if your son catches a big fish, we’ll print the picture!
We’re there to celebrate the football team’s state championship win, and we’re there to mourn with readers when a much loved person in the community dies.
Our paper goes back to 1920, so readers can see the archives and learn about history.
We’re here in the community, so if you want to talk, you can stop in. As someone who called once remarked, “Oh, there’s a real person there.”
We’re here, real people, bringing the real news of the community.
Roberta Baumann | Managing Editor | Waunakee Tribune
If any newspaper says it represents the voice of a community or champions a particular community, it just has to be the community newspaper. A community newspaper is really, really, part of the community it operates in and by logic, it should have a better understanding—if not a complete appreciation—of the community’s problems and wants.
And, as publishing economics frustrate mainstream and major newspapers by stifling their growth or bleeding them to death, community newspapers should be able to survive due to the support of the community they serve and the lower costs of publishing.
Also, the major newspapers have either no space or too little space to accommodate the coverage a community needs.
There is a direct relationship between a community newspaper and the community.
Eddy Lok | Editorial consultant | Toronto
Community newspapersare definitely very important. You can sit at home and watch ABC or Fox News all you want but that doesn’t tell you what your local officials are doing. You could go on the internet, but that’s on a similar scale that the major news channels are. What about education, policy and culture in your town? All of these things are important and small tabloids are there for that reason. Plus they’re small and easy to read.There are other sources you can go to but the best way to find local news in a small town is definitely through newspaper.
George Treviranus | Lead Designer | The Clarion
The Town of Cheshire (CT) is surrounded by daily newspapers–based in Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, and Meriden–that cover bits and pieces of Cheshire’s news, sports, and events. But, they all cover very large regions, if not the entire state, as they are intended to do, and are unable to do what The Cheshire Herald does each and every week… offer readers specific community news and event coverage, special interest community stories and photos/submissions, library news, local group/association meeting notices, and much more… specifically in and for this community.
As a weekly newspaper, CH was founded in 1953 and has remained Cheshire-specific in content throughout the decades of a variety of owners and editors. The dailies have subscribers here, naturally, but not the numbers we carry. For example, the south side households aren’t interested in Waterbury news since they physically reside closer to New Haven, the households on the north side vice-versa. The reason? Because The Cheshire Herald brings to their homes what they need to know about their own town, and they read it.
The Cheshire Herald, as oral and written accolades (and admonishments!) continue to prove, is a necessary and EXPECTED entity to get all the local information that can fit into a week’s paper in ONE PLACE for town residents to devour. On the very infrequent occasions of a delivery delay, the phone calls flood the office asking about it. The last time this occurred was just a couple of months ago when Mother Nature and a severe power outage caused a day’s delay in delivery. Confirmation of what we know. The paper was missed even when homes did not have power to turn on lights, thousands of trees were down, and unexpected snow knee deep.
Yes, we have gone digital as well. CH was offered as a SUBSCRIPTION Electronic edition long before most local dailies or weeklies, causing staff and owners to be amazed recently at all the fuss about putting up ‘paywalls’ and readers having to PAY for their news… didn’t they always pay for print?
The difference here is…?????Communities like Cheshire know that they can count on their local paper. Right down to the coveted crossword puzzle, Police Blotter listing, and obituaries. It is how residents stay connected with their community even as they commute (some a great distance, each day) to and from their workplaces, travel for business or pleasure, or even fly south for the winter… as do many of CH‘s “winter birds” do each year. Even in Florida, they can still feel a part of their home base, vicariously through their community paper.
The Cheshire Herald can be viewed on PCs, laptops, tablets, and even smart phones now so that each subscriber (whether for the year or just one edition) can “take” their town with them everywhere they go. That sense of security, knowledge, and awareness seems to be part of the foundation of loyalty to community papers. Yes, some numbers including profit are still down due to economic times, but the readers expect their community paper to be there for them, good and bad times.
And that is why, come hell or high water or Mother Nature or recessions or depressions, community papers will survive, continuing to do what they do best… informing, entertaining, uncovering, reporting, and reaching out to their local readers.
Susan Keeney | Advertising and Production Director | The Cheshire Herald
I am a fifth-generation newspaper owner. When I was growing up in Goldthwaite, my parents owned The Goldthwaite Eagle, which they had bought in 1970. As a kid and a teenager, I helped around the office in the days of linotype and “paste-up. ”
I never intended to pursue a career in journalism or be a newspaper owner. I went to the University of Illinois on a pole-vaulting scholarship, and my professors and advisors there pointed out early on that I was good with numbers. They encouraged me to pursue a degree in finance, which is what I did.
After graduating from college, I traded commodities on the trading floor in Chicago for six years before my second bout with cancer in 2000 forced me to move back home to Goldthwaite, Texas to live with my parents, be treated and recover.
At about that time my dad needed his knee replaced, so I offered to help with the newspaper for a couple of weeks. That couple of weeks turned into a few months, and in the meantime, I fell back in love with my fourth-grade sweetheart from Goldthwaite. Long story short, I decided to stay in Goldthwaite, marry my sweetheart. I bought The Eagle from my parents in 2005.
So that’s how I made the transition from options trader to newspaper owner. When I heard that Warren Buffett (or Berkshire Hathaway) was buying the Omaha World Herald, and got calls from my old trader friends jokingly pointing out “the parallels, ” I decided to write the [following] column.
The column is more of an ode to our little community here, but I thought comparing myself to Buffett would be entertaining and humorous as well.
I’m No Warren Buffet But...
By Steven Bridges | Eagle Owner
I traded Japanese Yen Options on the trading floor in Chicago, Ill., for six years. During that time, I heard many sayings and snippets of wisdom from more experienced traders. When a trader made money on a trade and bragged about it, other traders might reply, “You’re no Warren Buffett. ” A more humble trader who made money on a trade might say, “I’m no Warren Buffett. I just got lucky. ”
Warren Buffett is arguably the most respected investor on the trading floor. Buffett has a lifetime of successful trades to his credit. His trades are studied by everyone in the investment community. When Buffett made the decision to purchase his hometown newspaper, my Chicago trader friends, in good humor, began calling me here in Goldthwaite saying, “Steve, you’re no Warren Buffett. ”
It is true. I lucked into purchasing my wonderful hometown newspaper just like Buffett. And it didn’t hurt anything that I was able to buy it from my parents. Purchasing The Goldthwaite Eagle is by far the best investment I have ever made (except for convincing Debra to marry me).
Sure, with any investment, there are risks.
When Berkshire Hathaway, chaired by their executive director, Buffett, purchased the Omaha World-Herald, as reported by Omaha, Neb., media late in December, Berkshire reportedly had to pony up about $200 million for the transaction. With numerous business and economic gurus, not to mention newspaper folks themselves, saying the newspaper is going the way of the dinosaur, why would Berkshire, or Buffett, do such a thing?
Buffett himself has talked about the challenges facing the newspaper industry in the wake of a highly technology-oriented populace. Newspapers can get on the Internet bandwagon and set up online editions, but then the challenge becomes finding a way to charge for information posted to their Web sites while controlling costs. It can be difficult, according to Buffett, but not impossible.
“It won’t be like the past. But there are still a lot of things newspapers can do better than any other media. They not only can be sustained, but are important, ” Buffett has reportedly said. “I’m not comfortable without an honest-to-God newspaper in my hand. ”
Buffett is quoted as telling the World-Herald shareholders, “I wouldn’t do this if I thought this was doomed to some sort of extinction. ” He’s also reportedly said the newspaper “delivers solid profits and is one of the best-run newspapers in America. ”
So what makes the Omaha World-Herald so great? Omaha, apparently, at least according to Buffett.
“It’s a community that has a sense of community. I think that’s important to a newspaper, ” Buffett has been quoted as saying.
Mills County is, in my opinion, a community with a sense of community, and anyone who is from here or who has lived here long enough can testify to that. I often say The Eagle is a good newspaper in a great community. It’s true. I know that not only because I was born and raised here, but also because I can see it in The Eagle’s success.
While larger, daily newspapers all around us are folding and calling it quits, The Eagle’s circulation continues to grow — both online and in print. We brought in a combination of nine awards in 2011 from the Texas Press Association, the West Texas Press Association and the South Texas Press Association. In an era of iPads, Facebook and Twitter, you can still walk into our cafés, offices and homes and find people — young and old — poring over a good old-fashioned newspaper, fingers blackened by ink and all. That tells me something.
It tells me that I have a great staff here, and that we all do our parts to produce a quality product that I can market.
It also tells me that we are reporting on and for a community with a sense of community, as Buffett said. In Mills County, we are tightly-knit and we are proud. We should be.
So, when I say I am pleased with my investment by buying The Eagle, it’s twofold. It continues to be a good investment not only because it has proven to be financially sound, but also because the returns I get are oftentimes more valuable than those of the monetary variety.
Each time one of you calls, sends an e-mail or a letter, or stops in to say, “Good job, guys, ” or “Thank you, ” that’s a return on my investment. When a parent or grandparent gushes over the photos of our young people, that’s a return, too. When a story we have run helps someone in need, brings the community together, or helps right a wrong, I am enriched by it. Owning The Eagle has made me a wealthy soul. To that end, I may be no Warren Buffet, but then again, he’s no Steven Bridges.
Steven Bridges | Owner | Goldthwaite Eagle
Community newspapers are the creamy filling of the Oreo cookie, which binds the cookie pieces (the community) and makes it deliciously whole. And fulfilling. They satisfy hunger (for knowledge) as well.
Elyse Kaner | Arts editor | ABC Newspapers
Community newspapers matter because they make an immediate difference.
In a metro area, the clout is great but so are the layers that the effort has to work through to make a difference. That is not to say a metro can’t make a difference, because they do so every day…it’s just that because the front desk clerk is often the only person between you and the public, the feedback is immediate.
I believe we at community newspapers hold the key to making a difference and to the health and well-being of the industry in general through a philosophy I share at seminars called “The Six Most Important Words in Community Newspapers —”Local names. Local faces. Local activities”
As long as we hang our hat on those six words, we can protect our respective markets — and it works for advertisers, just as it does in the the newsroom.
One area where we miss the mark is in the area of news obituaries. We all have persons who made a difference in the community over their lifetime and, when they die, don’t relegate them to an inside page. Make it a legitimate news story and get quotes and refer to the obituary, but don’t rehash it.
We matter because we add relevance to the lives of those in our communities.
John H. Walker | Editor/Publisher | The Daily Southerner
Hello Ed. I’ve been a fan of your blog for quite some time now and wanted to contribute my comments on community newspapers.
I went into journalism for many reasons, but the biggest was a passion for people and talking with folks from all walks of life. Over the last six years, I’ve worked my way from intern to reporter to assistant editor to editor at a community paper, and the people are still what I enjoy the most about my job — whether it’s interviewing the woman who grew the largest cabbage in the county or debating our coverage with the local police chief.
Small-town papers do more than just disseminate information. They connect the community in a way that larger publications sometimes cannot. Our editorial pages give voice to people whose comments on local issues might be ignored at a metro paper or excluded due to lack of space. Our features highlight residents’ unique stories — ones you might only hear about if you knew so-and-so’s husband’s cousin.
We are the only publication in our county that offers in-depth coverage of our local governments and truly watches out for our taxpayers’ dollars — a service that is crucial in today’s economic climate.
When I walk out the door at the end of the day, I know that the work I am doing is making a difference in our readers’ lives. Seeing our articles and photos framed and hanging on the walls of local restaurants, or pinned to bulletin boards around town, still makes me smile.
If what they say is true — that the greatest professional satisfaction stems from doing work in which you truly believe — then I can’t imagine what other field could possibly be as enjoyable as the one I’m in now.
Emily Heglund | Editor | Tribune & Georgian
Community newspapers matter because communities matter.
Monika Spolia | Tribune & Georgian
Community newspapers are not just miniature versions of their big-city counterparts. There are significant differences that contribute to these smaller papers thriving while larger papers are faltering.
First, larger newspapers often exhibit a disconnection, even disdain, for many of their readers. Community journalism embraces rather than rejects its connection to its readers. The things that interest readers run the gamut in their level of sophistication. Woe to the community journalist who feels “above” covering fish frys, 4-H meetings or Christmas lighting contests. But readers of smaller papers also appreciate thoughtful stories covering serious subjects, too.
Second, for many years, larger newspapers held power as gatekeepers of information, which unfortunately gave some a power they may have used for ill, or at least insensitively. With the advent of the Internet, however, the power to gate-keep knowledge has been virtually eliminated. A good community newspaper, rather than try to make that decision for the reader, will just report honestly and let the chips fall where they may. That’s actually the right step for larger newspapers as well, but it’s a lesson that seems to have been forgotten in an effort to be considered sophisticated and politically correct.
A third difference is that community newspapers are literally closer to the people they cover. The people who work at community newspapers live and work with their readers and those whose activities they cover. They can’t write in the arch, superior way not uncommon in larger newspapers, or at least, if they do, they will have to face, sometimes almost daily or weekly, the people they have so easily and rudely dismissed. And the journalist will need the cooperation of those people to get needed information for future stories. That’s not to say that a reporter can allow a source to dictate the terms of the story. This semi-dependence just keeps the journalist from straying into an attitude of superiority to his or her readers and the subjects of the stories and coverage.
A fourth point of difference involves the principle common in the larger media for the writer or reporter to stay almost totally aloof from those being covered. This takes the positive principle of being objective and exaggerates it to the point of inhumanity or even lunacy. I know a reporter whose employer would not allow her to so much as drink a cup of coffee at an event for fear it would influence her objectivity. A successful reporter at a community newspaper shares that cup of coffee and is to a significant degree a transparent and real person to the readers and those being covered.
Successful community newspaper journalists, rather than try to replicate how larger newspapers work, embrace these differences and use them to make their paper excellent on many levels. In so doing, the newspaper gains the trust of the community and delivers an outstanding product that fulfills the ideals of journalism.
Roxanne McKnight | Staff Writer | The Mexia News
One of the things I’ve learned in the newspaper business over the last 30 years, change is certain. Just when you get staff well trained, advertisers sold on long term campaigns, annual promotions down to a science, something happens that steals your time. Not that there is ever enough time but maybe you had hoped for time to do upgrades on equipment, more staff training, more website development, develop new promotions and giveaways, organize files that have gotten out of control, add new features…and then you get a call from your printer…. “We’re moving all of our newspaper’s printing to Gate House Media’s printing facility in Independence, Missouri. You have three weeks to find a new facility to print your newspaper. No longer will the Syracuse Journal Democrat or the Nebraska City News Press be printed in Syracuse-it is all being moved to Independence.”
All right then. Kevin, our production manager, moved into action getting quotes from Oak Creek and Nebraska Printing Center in Lincoln, Bellevue, Red Oak, Iowa, Mound City, Missouri and Minnesota.
After a week of bidding, we have a winner-we are moving the printing of the newspaper to Bellevue, which is owned by Suburban Newspaper group-which owns the Omaha World Herald, Bellevue Leader, Papillion Times, Waverly News, Ashland Gazette, Wahoo Times, and numerous other newspapers.
Oddly enough, Bellevue does not print the Bellevue Leader-it is printed at the World Herald printing plant in Omaha because the World Herald presses are kept busy printing the broadsheets (size 18×22) for all the newspapers they own. Whereas, Bellevue has presses that can print the VOICE News tabloid size. We’d prefer not to change the size if we don’t have because our readers (and some of our staff) really dislike change and readers tell us it is a convenient size to read while waiting in the car to pick up the kids or while riding (as a passenger) down the road.
We tried to find an independent, but instead went with Bellevue, very nice people there and their price was competitive with Maverick Media. If we had printed at a Lee Enterprise printing plant in Lincoln, we would have spent up to an additional $29,000 a year.
That is a lot of advertising to sell to pay for that increase-we would have had to drastically increase either ad or subscription rates, or cut staff, to cover that increase.
So, we have one more issue, March 1 with Maverick Media staff who have done a wonderful job for us over the years and we will miss working with them.
So Bellevue and Syracuse both have printing plants, yet don’t print their own newspaper, the Crete News recently closed their printing plant and are now printing at another plant (they switched to the tabloid size of the VOICE citing savings for advertisers and flexibility (in color pages). Often times when we give tours at our office, people and kids expect to see a printing press, not realizing the size and scope of the buildings, equipment, supplies, staff, and investment needed to print your own newspaper.
At one time, Bill and I considered investing in our own printing plant and backed out when we realized the equipment we were considering was held together by some paper clips and a few handy pressmen. It quickly convinced us we should continue to pay someone else to print out newspaper, not knowing a thing about presses and the associated equipment, OSHA rules and union workers. Please bear with us as we learn the new quirks of printing on a new press in the coming weeks.
As we end our 30th year publishing the Voice, we want to take this opportunity to thank you, readers and advertisers, many of whom have been loyal to our newspaper family for many years, some as many as 30 years. Things have changed so much since Bill and I jumped on the newspaper train; the staff, the technology, the thinking, the readers preferences and habits. Fortunately, good hometown newspapers have continued to survive and sometimes prosper even with all the changes.
We believe that a newspaper that is locally owned and operated will be more receptive to the wants and needs of both readers and advertisers.
We reviewed the NPA newspaper data across the state and there only about a dozen with our circulation numbers, most newspapers are much smaller, most are owned by corporations that own more than one newspaper, usually they own many, many times it is big out of state media companies.
We live in the community we cover and have for 34 years so we have watched the changes take place in the people, the towns and know much of the history of the area as well as the families. As we begin our 31st year, we hope to add even more subscribers in this growing area and we need our long time subscribers recommendation to your neighbors and friends to ask them to consider subscribing.
The fourth week of each month in 2012, we will send a sample copy to a different town(s) that we cover. Some towns we cover has no financial advantage; few businesses that can or will support the news coverage of their town, but we do it anyway. There are many small towns across the state that are under served and have zero news coverage of both their school or their community. Denton, Pickrell, and Eagle would be three towns that had little or no coverage until we decided a newspaper needed to record their history despite little business advertising support.. We count on the readers in all our towns to give us news tips, tell us who and what would make an interesting story…we nearly always end up with a story or picture from those tips, so keep ‘em coming.
And one last note about the changes coming to the newspaper. Glenn “Wag” Wagner, will no longer be joining us, no longer griping about how many or how heavy the newspaper is, no longer bragging about the great reporters we have, no longer oohing and ahhing over one of Bill’s photographs, no more promoting us to all his old business friends at the country club, no longer joining Bill and Fox at the tavern after the paper was loaded for story time about the Huskers or the family. We don’t know when Fox, my father-in-law, and Wag, our friend, started helping us on Wednesday in the circulation and mail room. It was just in the last year that we made some changes when their health prevented them from being regulars on Wednesdays and they were called in for just for extra mailings or inserting advertising fliers. No more working for peanuts…and beer. We will miss Wag; he died of a heart attack February 15, he was 92.
Linda Bryant | Co-Publisher | Voice News