By Becky Jane Newbold Lewis County Herald, Hohenwald Tennessee
Oooooo, I got my feelings hurt last fall. As hard as I tried to not dive deep into a pity party, I must admit, I was teetering on the edge.
It was a Mathematical journey to start with and the story is as old as, well, as my 85 year old mother. (I hope you don’t take offense at the example, Mom).
You see, this newspaper is audited each and every year by the United States Postal Service. Every publication is audited by some outside agency in order to validate circulation. So, every September, we take our carefully kept numbers of sales and tally them to determine how we stand. Every sale counts. Subscriptions both in and out of the county, rack sales, counter sales and even the occasional “they caught me in the parking lot and I sold one out of the delivery van” sale.
Back in 2011, when I previously worked at this paper, the circulation was 3,750. My daddy would have been so proud. When he and mother purchased the newspaper in 1956, they printed 800 each week.
But today our circulation has declined to 2,832, hence the threat of ultimate sadness and tears, aforementioned.
What can be done? Well, we must apparently do a better job. Both in marketing the newspaper and convincing you, our dear readers, to buy said paper.
Always, always, we strive to do better work. It’s just our nature to learn something new everyday and to glean ideas for fun, creative projects. Equally important is the accurate, honest reporting of local news.
Alarmed after last September’s audit was submitted to USPS, when circulation numbers were down by three percent from the previous year, we began some soul searching to find out what might be affecting the number of newspapers we sell each week. Yes, even a three percent drop is disturbing.
We called on industry expert, Kevin Slimp, aka, the News Guru, of Knoxville who suggested we host a focus group. What a great idea!
First, we posted an advertisement in our local paper, announcing our intent and several people responded. Realizing we also would like to contact non-readers to learn why they might not be picking up the paper, we also called area businesses, schools and churches to find other interested participants.
By the time the day rolled around, we had found a fair demographic of our community and even had a waiting list! Twelve members of the community, seven women, five men, ranging in age from 16 to, well, we won’t tell the age of the oldest so let’s safely say we had middle agers and seniors in the room.
A few minutes after everyone gathered at a local restaurant, the Junkyard Dog Steakhouse, we put our focus group to work. Dividing them into three groups, we handed each a newspaper and a list of questions. We asked for impressions of the front page, the classified page, the flow of our pages, photos, sports, headlines, everything we could think to ask, we did. And this group took the task seriously. Following, a sample of the things we heard.
Likes included the variety of topics covered on the front page and the focus on local news. Suggested was to do a better job of getting the local conversation as it related to national news. But “keep the local focus,” they said.
Other positive things written about the front page were “visually appealing” headlines that were “attention getters.”
In another issue of the newspaper (we gave them three different issues to review), we did not do such a great job. “We don’t know where to direct our focus.” Thank you, we will strive to do better.
Favorite parts of every paper reviewed: headlines, teacher of the year article. Sudoku, $100 prize, court and police reports, the positive aspect, person of the week, sports, society news and the “Glimpses of Hohenwald’s Past” article written each week by our local historian, Crystal Nash.
One person, Harry Crist, stood and requested editorials be returned to the Lewis County Herald. Others in the room firmly stated they only wished to see editorials written by staff members, not readers or contributors. When asked about letters to the editor, the request was to allow none or to only allow those that were not divisive in nature.
Ideas for future columns: recipes and gardening (see page 14 of this edition for our first installment), and a senior citizen and a young adult column. Others hope to see more weddings and more puzzles.
Another suggestion was to have more interviews with locals and more local writers. We are busy seeking out interested people. Be sure to read our interview with our Citizen of the Week (in this issue).
So you may ask, “What’s so awesome about a newspaper?”
Here’s our take. For one thing, its written, designed and sold by people you know. Without fail, every week. You may sit next to us in church, see us at the grocery or pass us on the way to your child’s sporting event. In a completely non-creepy way, we are everywhere!
We are just like you. We work really hard to do our best every day. When you buy a subscription, you support a local business, which in turn employs local people, who in turn pay local taxes and support other local businesses. It’s the circle of life.
We stand shoulder to shoulder with you when county or city governments want to raise taxes. We dig in to find out why and tell you. Sorry, but Facebook has a tough time making money in our small town so they don’t sit in on too many city council meetings.
We grieve with you, we rejoice with you. We do not make the news, as some larger so called journalistic endeavors may. We report the news.
Mostly, we depend on you. Thank you for your readership, for spending your advertising dollars with us and for sharing your events. We are grateful to be a part of this community.