A newspaper will always be significant if it has made a difference

Chip Hutcheson

Mar 1, 2024

... The challenge is how to keep the newspaper’s focus local by tapping into other resources.

Local. local, local. When the subject focuses on content, that word “local” is crucial to every community newspaper.

Every year about this time, Pub Aux focuses on ideas related to content. We’ll delve into that, but a few caveats need to precede the conversation.

Reduced staffing is often blamed for a decrease in locally produced stories. We cannot change the reality of the staffing models, but the challenge is how to keep the newspaper’s focus local by tapping into other resources. Look around and see the growth in nonprofit news websites. Those have emerged because for-profit newspapers have faltered in local news coverage.

If anything gives evidence to the public’s desire for community-based journalism, all that is needed is to examine the work of nonprofit news organizations in your state.

In the past, newspapers fretted that radio, then TV, then the internet were competitors. However, we see an increasing number of newspapers giving up the competitive fight and surrendering their mission to the nonprofits. Let’s be blunt — nonprofits are not the enemy of newspapers because they step in and fill a much-needed void. It should be the desire of community newspapers to make sure they remain the trusted and comprehensive source for local news.

That begins with coverage of local government. Make sure your newspaper is present for every city and county government meeting, as well as the local school board. Know your local law enforcement personnel and firmly establish that what they do should be reported by the newspaper. Having a mutually professional relationship with people in government and law enforcement will pay dividends.

One of the defining moments in my first year (1976) as a publisher came when I was talking with the county sheriff about work his department was doing. He casually mentioned that it appeared a year-old homicide — a rarity in our town of 6,000 — appeared to be solved. He said a man had been arrested for murder in the Nashville, Tennessee, area, and authorities there were convinced he was guilty of the murder in my Kentucky community. That sent me on the 90-mile trip to Nashville, where I scoured the daily newspaper’s files and found plenty of information on the accused man. The story of that man’s arrest and his connection to the Princeton murder was something no one in our town but the sheriff knew about, and it sparked a dramatic surge in circulation — a significant step in our battle against a competing paper.

However, one-time major stories won’t guarantee long-term success. It takes diligence to continue to produce content that draws readers so they never want to miss an issue.


  • The more you interact with people, the more story ideas you will find. The more people you know, the more you will learn about potential stories. If you are an introvert, interaction with others can be problematic. But it’s not fatal. Develop ways to become more of a people person. It’s easier to talk with people in familiar surroundings, so invite folks to your home or business and engage in conversation. When you are in places where you feel the most secure, you are more likely to be able to talk freely. Then you will be prepared to move outside your comfort zone.
  • Also, be intentional on starting conversations. Ask, “How are you doing today,” then follow with a question along the lines of “What do you think about _____?” Then listen to what the person says and respond accordingly. Learn to say “yes” to invitations to gatherings and events. The more times you can engage with people, the more they will learn to trust you and be open to you.
  • Don’t overlook the obvious. Familiarity can be our enemy — so try to have fresh eyes. I talked with a friend who said he benefited greatly by following the advice of looking at things as though it was the first time he had seen them. His wife loves flowers, but he never noticed them. He began to look at flowers as though it was the first time he had ever seen them, and said it was remarkable how much he began to notice in various flowers and how much it impacted him.
  • Be alert to the unusual. That means be curious. An essential way to improve your curiosity is to ask the right questions. That can take a boring conversation into an extraordinary one. “Tell me about yourself” is an excellent question in many situations. Taking a walk has health benefits, but it also can stimulate your mind on stories that you might not think of while sitting at your computer. Vary from your routine — don’t drive the same streets every day. Take a detour, and you may encounter something that arouses your curiosity.
  • Focus on people. There are myriad ways to do that, which in turn yields informative and entertaining stories. At a senior citizens center or retirement home, talk to staff and ask who are the most interesting people here. Those might yield stories of someone with a distinguished military career from decades ago or someone who has overcome a tremendous obstacle in life.
  • Develop stories related to special events. Every week/month is designated to focus on a segment of society — everything from National FFA Week, National Library Week, Administrative Professional Week, Month of the Military Child, National Hospital Week, Nurses Week, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Veterans Day, National First Responders Day, etc. All those offer opportunities to spotlight people who have significant involvement in those observances.
  • Use social media to your advantage. Most communities have a “What’s Happening” connection on Facebook. That is a quick resource to gather story ideas. Also, most communities have a “Then and Now” on Facebook where there is a look back on that community’s history. You’ll likely find historical tidbits that you might never have heard about, and that can spawn some great stories, especially from people who make comments on the various posts.
  • Make a difference. Have a goal every day of making sure your content makes a difference in your community. That could mean a story on a youngster who raises a significant amount of money for a local charity. Your profile on that person might inspire others to act similarly. Report on your local schools and their athletic events. Most people I know who had children play sports still have scrapbooks of stories and photos of their children in those activities. They might not mean much to the general population years later, but to those families, they are priceless memories.

“Moving from Success to Significance” by Bob Buford sums it up well. Success is about the person; significance is about adding value to others. Success is fleeting — satisfaction is not. A newspaper can be successful one day and before long be out of business. But it will always be significant if it has made a difference.

Chip Hutcheson is the retired publisher of The Times Leader in Princeton, Kentucky. He was NNA president in 2015. He currently serves as a content strategist for Kentucky Today, the online news website of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. chiphutcheson@yahoo.com