Roadkill may be a prettier sight than daily newspapers’ bottom line these days.
Same could be said about weeklies in some parts of the U.S., according to reports from the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.
But weeklies in and around Fort Worth tell a different story.
They’re alive, thriving and energizing their communities, according to a panel of publishers and editors from four of those papers who recently sketched their robust performance for members of the Greater Fort Worth Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America during their June meeting at the Petroleum Club.
Sharing insights into local weekly newspapering were Lucie Allen, publisher/editor of the Spanish-language Panorama News; Lee Newquist, publisher of the Fort Worth Weekly; Blake Ovard, managing editor of The Star Group Newspapers, and Kay Pirtle, editor of the Wedgwood News.
Keys to their strength, they said, are intense and exclusive focus on local news that their readers care about, deep involvement in their communities and close listening to locals’ concerns while maintaining high levels of professionalism that are essential for credibility.
And they presented impressive bottom-line results that reflect reader loyalty as well as finely targeted news products.
Panorama’s circulation is 15,000 weekly with readership of 60,000, Allen said, and serves many second-generation Hispanic-Americans. The 46-year-old Wedgwood News has expanded to include Ridglea and Cityview areas, Pirtle said, and is serving 30,000 readers, many of whom are third-generation readers.
The Fort Worth Weekly is solidly staffed (the crew includes two Pulitzer Prize-winning staffers), Newquist said. All revenue flows strictly from advertising. Everyone’s passionate about readers and freedom to write what they want. “We’re not accountable to some higher power that tells us what stories to write,” he said.
The Star Group –- with weeklies in Alvarado, Burleson, Crowley, Everman, Joshua, Keene, Southlake and South Tarrant -– grew nearly 16 percent last year, Ovard said, as residential developments increased population. New residents wanted their local paper, he said -– a strength, he added, that drove ’08 performance at many of MediaNews’ community papers, referring to The Star Group’s owner, the fourth largest newspaper group in the U.S.
I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog post, not a news story, so, for those with challenged attention spans, here are a few brief excerpts from other points the panelists emphasized:
Pirtle: “We’re resilient because we grew up with the area we serve. I know exactly who gets the papers.”
Newquist: “We’re doing very well. Our paper’s very strong. ... The model is: Put your readers first. … My job is to get readers and advertisers to meet one another. … We’ve had no reductions in staff. Scaling back is the biggest mistake in journalism right now. People should be doing more and tackling more issues in their communities. We have a wide-open door to tackle important local issues. … We do good journalism. We’re not afraid. We’ve been called ‘punk rag’ (and criticized for running) adult advertising, but look who’s standing.”
Allen: “Our readers are a population that we like to get involved with. We’re at graduations, we serve on committees, we hold marketing seminars. We’re serving family and friends. That’s how we find out what’s on their minds. … There were 30,000 (Hispanic) babies born here last year. They’ll look to us to maintain a contact with their country of origin -- their culture there. That will always keep our readers looking to us for that sort of information.”
Ovard: “We know where we fit in the community. We constantly get feedback (which helps tailor the news package to fit). We care about what everybody says. … Newspapers are never going away (because they’re the best source for local news). … Everything online comes from reporters going out and doing their job. Our business model is bright.”